During the discussion over a Nashville Sounds riverfront ballpark, a point some folks made was to build it so it could be expanded to attract a Major League Baseball team.
With that in mind, a Tampa Bay Business Journal reader made an interesting comment in a poll on whether or not the city should build a new ballpark for Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Devil Rays on the waterfront in St. Petersburg.
“Wake up folks,” the paper quoted one reader. “If we don't build the Rays a new stadium, rest assured Charlotte, N.C., or Nashville are just two of the 20 cities lined up to do whatever it takes to land a major league franchise. If you vote no, don't cry when the Rays are gone for good.”
Since the reader decided to throw Nashville in the mix of cities willing to woo the team, perhaps just for giggles the thought should be pondered here more deeply at least from a speculative economic-development what-if standpoint.
Obviously, the reader is responding to those who oppose the proposed $450-million project, which involves public assistance along with a hefty financial commitment from the Rays owners.
They have teamed with Houston-based Hines to redevelop Tropicana Field into a vast mixed-use development as the new ballpark is built.
And if you think the arguments for and against differ from city to city, think again. The team addresses “common misconceptions” on its Web site.
One misconception: “My taxes will help pay for the Rays ballpark.”
The team’s response: “No existing taxes will be diverted to fund the ballpark, and no new taxes will be imposed.”
Another misconception: “This is a ploy to move the team.”
The team’s response: “The Rays are committed to St. Petersburg. We are not demanding a ballpark. The Rays feel this is a rare opportunity to create a win-win with the City and community.”
Many would acknowledge that landing a third major professional sports team here has as much of a chance as a snowball surviving in the Bahamas. The odds are better for the Predators getting beyond the first round in the playoffs — maybe.
A third pro team would slice the pie more thinly. The Predators, in particular, still need to get attendance higher than what’s needed for league revenue sharing.
But let’s go from the viewpoint of bringing an American League team here is like building roads. More roads encourage more development.
State Route 840 is a perfect example. There’s plenty of newly built, empty warehouse space in Wilson County just waiting for tenants that economic developers and real estate brokers try bringing.
Bringing a Major League Baseball team into a shiny new ballpark could be creating infrastructure, that quality-of-life feature that attracts people to the Nashville area. Perhaps, the 39 companies a Partnership 2010 presentation recently said are looking at the area would be more inclined to bring 10,000 jobs here.
From a fan perspective, think about all those former Michigan folks here for the auto industry. They may like to see their American League Detroit Tigers play without going to Detroit.
They certainly fill a lot of seats for the Red Wings games when they play the Predators. They may not be as loyal to the Tigers as the Red Wings but they still represent a base.
And surely Mayor Karl Dean isn’t the only Boston Red Sox fan. Dean could conduct the city’s business from a seat along the baseline.
There’s at least one fan of the lousy Texas Rangers. (Ironically, President George Bush was an owner in the team the last time it was any good.)
The New York Yankees probably would draw crowds as would other American League teams.
In addition to the “build-it-and-they-will-come” perspective, there’s the sales point economic developers have long used that could work — Nashville’s central location.
Economic developers as well as a bevy of consultants often highlight Nashville’s proximity to a large percentage of the U.S. population. The area has increasingly become a distribution and logistics hub because of the central location and the three interstates cutting through the area.
So, the baseball team could be pitched as a super regional team. It would have to be. The Nashville area’s population is about 1.4 million compared to the 2.5 million in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg.
The Tennessee Titans draw from outside Tennessee, although it’s just for eight home games a year, compared with 81 home games for a baseball team.
There are three National League teams within a half-day drive of Nashville — St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds, but the nearest American League teams are a day or more drive away. It’s easier to fly Southwest Airlines to Kansas City or Chicago.
Fans making the trip to Nashville for a baseball game of course would bring business downtown, assuming the new ballpark was built on the former Thermal Plant site along the riverfront.
That would mean more hotel/motel tax revenue to help payoff bonds to build a new convention center, unless the revenues were diverted to build a new ballpark since it could be considered a tourist related venue.
The trouble is that folks traveling here for baseball probably would have to be avid fans of American League baseball and enjoy watching the designated hitter instead of a pitcher who can’t hit. And it’s doubtful the 11-year-old Rays have developed the deep following of many other teams in baseball to be the draw.
So, is it folly to think of American League baseball in Nashville? Probably in the short term it is.
Another million people in Nashville would help. The outlying counties are doing their part for sure.
The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org