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A tale of two polls: Voters support Rays stadium project

Mark Parker

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A recent scientific poll conducted by Pathfinder Opinion Research found voters overwhelmingly support keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. Photo: City of St. Petersburg.

A public opinion poll commissioned by the Tampa Bay Rays found St. Petersburg and Pinellas County residents overwhelming support plans to build the team a new ballpark.

Columbia, South Carolina-based Pathfinder Opinion Research surveyed 492 active municipal voters and 500 of their county counterparts between March 13 and 19. Results were consistent regardless of location and political affiliation. Like most professional franchises, the Rays have conducted public sentiment polls for over 10 years.

After hearing a “brief description” of the team’s current lease at Tropicana Field, 78% of St. Petersburg residents believe it is “important” to keep the team in the city for “several decades.” That number increased to 82% among county voters.

That was a recurring trend among the separate, physical memorandums marked “confidential” and obtained by the Catalyst. Support was slightly higher among county respondents in nearly each of the nine categories.

Before hearing any agreement details, about two-thirds of respondents favored a public-private partnership between the Rays, city and county to build a new $1.3 billion ballpark. About 30% – just 24% in Pinellas – opposed the idea.

Pathfinder received similar results in each county commission district. The poll also found that 67% of Pinellas Democrats, 65% of Republicans and 59% favored local governments completing a stadium deal.

Those results varied slightly inside city limits, with 65% of St. Petersburg Republicans, 64% of Democrats and 61% of independents offering their approval. The national independent research firm also found that additional information increased support.

Approval rates spiked to over 80% when Pathfinder told voters that no property taxes or new assessments would fund the project and that the Rays would commit to a 30-year lease. Support increased to 88% (county) and 83% (city) when participants realized that the ballpark “will be an active community asset on non-game days.”

“We are pleased with the results and believe they are a reflection of the wide support for the franchise, as we have become part of the fabric of our community for more than 25 years,” said Rays president Brian Auld in a prepared statement.

Differing conclusions

Pathfinder’s results refute a widely circulated survey released in February by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area. It utilized the online platform SurveyMonkey and asked participants if they agreed or disagreed with statements like, “The city and the county should negotiate a better deal than the current term sheet that costs taxpayers $1.9 billion.”

While nearly 69% strongly agreed, the emailed survey also noted that neither governing body has approved a deal. It did not mention how the League determined that cost; the city has not publicly released any final documents.

Over 72% expressed concern that spending $700 million in property taxes on a stadium would impede the city’s ability to borrow money during a natural disaster. Local officials have repeatedly stressed that they would not allocate property taxes – or draw from general funds – to subsidize the project.

Pathfinder’s survey explained that the Rays would cover over half of the stadium costs, at least $700 million, and any overruns. City and county officials have capped their contribution at $600 million.

The two governments will split the public subsidy nearly evenly, with the city utilizing tax-exempt bonds and the county drawing from bed tax coffers restricted to tourism development projects. After hearing the funding plan, about 75% of respondents were more likely to strongly disagree that the area “would be better off letting the Rays leave and figuring out a use for the Tropicana Field site after the team’s lease expires in 2027.”

A site plan of the $6.5 billion redevelopment project. Photo of provided rendering by Mark Parker.

About 780 people responded to the League’s 36,641 emails – over 200 less than the Pathfinder poll. The Pew Research Center, when conducting national polls, typically recruits around 1,500 respondents to increase accuracy.

Pathfinder’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The League’s survey did not provide those statistics. In addition, 18% of participants stated they were unaware of their municipal district when asked, the highest response rate.

The nonprofit said it was not “holding this out as a scientific poll, but it is an important indication that St. Petersburg residents have widespread concern and skepticism about this proposed use of vast public resources” in its survey announcement. “The League supports the redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant in accordance with the city’s promise of attainable housing, equitable business opportunities, office space … and impactful economic development that benefits all, especially those who were impacted by the original development of this land to build a stadium.”

Other notable statistics

The Pathfinder poll found that nearly two-thirds of county and city respondents are less likely to vote for a representative who opposes the stadium deal. The St. Petersburg City Council could offer its approval in June, and elections are in November.

The survey found that nearly 60% of residents believe their quality of life would decrease without the Rays. Over three-quarters of St. Petersburg voters view the team as “integral to the city’s economy and cultural identity.”

About two-thirds of respondents named affordable housing their top priority for the $6.5 billion Gas Plant redevelopment. Senior residences, healthcare services and shops and restaurants followed in descending order. Just 5% of city and 4% of county residents said additional office space was a primary concern.

 

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mike C

    April 18, 2024at1:18 pm

    Again, why is the leadership of St. Pete planning to burden the taxpayers of St. Pete and their families to support a business enterprise?!
    Using a poll to footstomp that the people want this, is utterly hilarious. If you asked nearly every citizen, do you want this? “Yeah!”, Will you, yourself pay for it? “No!” This is not “FREE” to the people of St. Pete and the county. — Take it to the polls and be transparent about costs and who will pay.

    Also, affordable housing is the top priority among respondents for the project??.. Wow, thats concerning.

    BTW, other cities have the sports franchise owners flip the bill, Gillette Stadium was paid for by the Patriots and Krafts and other private entities not the taxpayers. They just did a reno for another $250M.
    St Pete Leadership, step up and be transparent and courageous!

  2. Avatar

    Steve Sullivan

    April 18, 2024at10:10 am

    And, keep in mind the original inhabitants were forced off the land

  3. Avatar

    Steve Sullivan

    April 18, 2024at10:08 am

    Nobody has mentioned the people who used to live on this land but a lot of you use words like stole or stealing in reference to the Ray’s. Really? Typical white privilege speak going on in this discussion. The only people that should talk about stolen land is the original inhabitants of the land. They are the ones who never saw the promised positive impact from the development. They want and need well paying jobs and quality housing with stellar management. Everyone else you are no better than the Rays who you speak so ill about

  4. Avatar

    Karen Goodrich

    April 18, 2024at2:49 am

    992 voters polled? What kind of valid sampling is that? And done by the Rays, no less? Do better such as putting the deal up for a true vote!

  5. Avatar

    HAL FREEDMAN

    April 17, 2024at11:34 pm

    If these polls are real and conflicting, why not put the question on the ballot in November? 5 Council people voted to do that…they needed 6 (a supper majority) to make it happen. Maybe one of the 3 who voted against a referendum could be persuaded to change their vote (Gerdes, Gabbard, Montanari)?? Let the taxpayers who will be footing the bill decide! There is a great article in The Hill that makes this point, and St. Petersburg is mentioned.

  6. Avatar

    Philip J

    April 17, 2024at4:50 pm

    The purpose of City Government is to provide public safety (police and fire), infrastructure (roads, bridge, water and sewer), parks, and promote positive economic policy. Using taxpayer dollars to fund a stadium in which they receive no ownership equity or a portion of revenue generated in proportion to the amount invested is not a positive economic policy. (Would you use your had earned money to help an individual to buy a piece of property and build a building for use in THEIR business, without receiving an equity interest in it)? So it is clear our Mayor and City Council members are not living up to their fiduciary obligations to the City tax payers!

    This article brings up a survey paid for by the Rays, and as you would expect it is favorable to them. If you look at the studies done in regard to the economic benefit to cities having a major league baseball team, you will see that most economists and large CPA firms who conducted those studies concluded that they provide little or no economic benefit. In fact it has a disproportionate negative effect on low and middle income taxpayers, who are the least likely to attend a MLB game due to the high cost of tickets.

    Even the proposal to redevelop the gas plant area is flawed in favor of the Rays.

    If our Mayor and City Council members want to abide by their fiduciary, they will not approve this one sided agreement and get a better deal for the taxpayers they represent!

  7. Avatar

    Danny E White

    April 17, 2024at3:39 pm

    There is no way that whatever the Rays/Hines and the City negotiate that it will satisfy every single resident in St Petersburg or the Greater Tampa Bay Area for that matter. Maybe the Rays/Hines team should read the comments left by many who clearly have tremendous insight into the mechanics of massive land redevelopment projects like the Historic Gas Plant District. Each and every time the Catalyst posts an article about the proposed ballpark deal, there appears to be some highly qualified individuals who have an opinion why the deal ‘sucks’ for the citizens and sometimes they include the reasons why the deal ‘sucks.’ Maybe they could be hired on as consultants?

  8. Avatar

    Laura

    April 17, 2024at3:31 pm

    Just because the city says now that there will be no tax increase to pay for it, doesn’t mean that will remain true in the future. Also, I haven’t heard that would require the Rays to stay for 30 years.

  9. Avatar

    Jonathan Ginsberg

    April 17, 2024at3:29 pm

    The LWV poll had elements of a “push poll” intended to influence public opinion, not gauge it.

    I wrote them emails – asking if they had consulted with a methodological polling firm – or the poll was designed. I did not het an answer.

    This is about building an entirely new neighborhood – that includes a ballpark.

    I fully support the conceptual framework of this deal and I applaud Mayor Welch and his team for theit leadership on this issue.

  10. Avatar

    Chris

    April 17, 2024at3:24 pm

    except she did win the popular vote well within the margin of error.

  11. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    April 17, 2024at3:11 pm

    When was the last time polls were correct? Hillary thought she would beat Trump.

  12. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    April 17, 2024at3:00 pm

    St Petersburg is going to bank on a poll written and paid for by the Rays. Right!! This is the same organization that said Tampa or nothing; Montreal or nothing.

    Read my analysis of the Development Agreement, then take a poll.

  13. Avatar

    Bill Parker

    April 17, 2024at1:24 pm

    Well said . Lots and lots of outright propaganda being peddled by the team and all the organizations and officials it’s enriching.

    This is nothing more than a wealth transfer of public funds to the wealthy owners who will do nothing to benefit this city.
    The public representatives should be outraged that the mayor supports this shakedown, not giving it a shred of support.

    Reach out to your council representatives and give an earful that you don’t want your money, land and taxes stolen for this boondoggle.

  14. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    April 17, 2024at11:58 am

    PS recent documented research by Visit Clearwater/St. Pete reveals ONLY 3% of visitors come to St. Pete for baseball. Let’s get real shall we?

  15. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    April 17, 2024at11:55 am

    We all Love the Rays. What we don’t like is the land-grab of its owners who hide behind the Rays name to run their Sting operation. Big difference.

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