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What the Royal Rumble meant to stadium plans, businesses

Mark Parker

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Hundreds of wrestling fans, most in related attire, wait for the Jan. 27 Royal Rumble to begin at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill. Photo by Mark Parker.

World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Royal Rumble drew a record-breaking crowd to Tropicana Field Jan. 27 and bolstered sales for most hospitality businesses in St. Petersburg’s surrounding Edge District.

The wrestling event intertwines with plans to build a new $1.3 billion ballpark at the site. Brian Lowack, CEO of Visit St. Pete Clearwater (VSPC), told Pinellas County Commissioners in October 2023 that generated tourism taxes would help fund their $312.5 million contribution to the project.

Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld called the event “absolutely incredible” for the team and its public and private partners. The Royal Rumble’s 48,044 attendees surpassed the 47,150 who watched a New Kids on the Block concert at the Trop in August 1990.

“It demonstrated that we could bring lots and lots of people to Tropicana Field,” Auld told the Catalyst. “And that our staff is more than capable of pulling off an event of that size and scope.

“I think it really puts a flag in the ground we’re going to use to try and recruit more events to Tropicana Field and our future ballpark, as well.”

An aerial view of Ferg’s (foreground) shows a line of people (background) entering Tropicana Field. Photo by Shaquille Lashley.

The event coincided with the Rays and Hines development team and city and county administrators finalizing project agreements. If approved this spring, the stadium would anchor the Historic Gas Plant District’s $6.5 billion transformation from underutilized land and surface parking lots into a vibrant mixed-use community.

The Rays plan to offer programming at the new ballpark throughout the year. Auld said the Royal Rumble helped build that capacity and highlighted local demand for premier, one-off events.

“Any number of businesses in the Edge District and downtown had record nights and days,” Auld added. “It demonstrates what a real attraction can do in terms of bolstering – not just the numbers at Tropicana Field – but in the surrounding areas, too.”

Councilmember Copley Gerdes said the St. Pete Pier, nearly two miles east of Tropicana Field, was packed with people wearing Royal Rumble attire and faux championship belts. He agreed that hotels reached capacity, and businesses enjoyed the increased foot traffic.

Gerdes believes that economic impact would increase with a new ballpark. He noted it would connect to restaurants, hotels, offices and homes in and outside the redevelopment area.

“Imagine how many Royal Rumbles, or events like it, we could host at a state-of-the-art stadium,” Gerdes said. “Made not only for baseball but all kinds of events that will bring visitors to the city and Gas Plant District 300 days of the year.”

Crowds of people walk through St. Petersburg’s Edge District before the Jan. 27 Royal Rumble. Photo by Mark Parker.

Visit St. Pete Clearwater has not received or released the Royal Rumble’s economic impact results. The organization spent $500,000 in tourist development tax funding – accrued from overnight hotel stays – in its successful bid to secure the event.

The Greater Orlando Sports Commission allocated $850,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to host the Royal Rumble at Camping World Stadium. Orange County officials projected a $28 million economic impact.

“It’s undeniable that there was an economic gain for us in the city with that event,” said Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders. “It really shows me the possibilities … because of the success of that one, I think it put us in a really good position to host other events.”

Roger Curlin, executive director of the Edge Business District Association, said most retailers received a “net zero” benefit. He explained that many regular customers avoided the area due to traffic and parking impacts.

Curlin concurred that most hotels, restaurants, bars and coffee shop owners received a boost. How much, he added, depended on how they adjusted operating hours, menus, staffing and other factors.

Nathan Stonecipher, co-owner of Green Bench Brewing, said his business received an uptick in foot traffic. He noted that many customers were “new faces,” and the Edge District was “packed.”

Stonecipher said a 10% to 15% increase in revenue could not have come at a better time. He said retail and food and beverage sales typically decrease in January after an expensive holiday season, and the event provided a “really helpful, additional pop.”

When asked if he thought a redeveloped Gas Plant and additional activation would improve business throughout the adjacent Edge District, Stonecipher said, “One hundred percent.” He called using vacant land for surface parking the “absolute worst uses of space.”

“I think we can create a dynamic use of space that brings people in year-round for many different things,” Stonecipher said. “What’s beautiful about it is we can develop it in such a way that it’s accessible to everybody in the community and everybody with different interests throughout different parts of the year.”

 

 

 

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    February 26, 2024at8:23 am

    Some really great ideas and observations. I like the arena idea/ convention center. What is wrong with the existing stadium? Why not renovate it???

  2. Avatar

    Rick.K

    February 20, 2024at7:36 am

    An excellent, well-written article. Thanks Mark.

  3. Avatar

    Tom

    February 18, 2024at12:18 pm

    This article doesn’t make any sense. The new much smaller billion dollar stadium would not have room for this type of event.

  4. Avatar

    Donna Sayers

    February 17, 2024at6:14 pm

    We always hear about how much $ events bring into our community. Where is all of that $ going? How about a tax break for all of the property owners who live here? We are the ones who make up this very welcoming community and the ones who would like to be part of the financial gain! 🤔

  5. Avatar

    Hal Freedman

    February 17, 2024at10:15 am

    It’s interesting the two top attended events had nothing to do with baseball. The attendance was 4 to 5 times the average attendance at a Rays game. For less than what it will cost the city to have an MLB team here, they could build a general purpose Arena/convention center and have conferences and general interest events. There is no reason to spend over $1 billion and give 22 acres of city land tax free to a for-profit company.

  6. Avatar

    Willi Rudowsky

    February 16, 2024at5:02 pm

    Amazing that wrestling had a bigger crowd than almost every baseball game. Maybe what we really need instead is an arena or other general purpose event space not tied to any sport or specific use..

  7. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    February 16, 2024at4:47 pm

    Personally I’d like to see animal events. Equestrian, kennel shows, dressage, exotic pet shows, cat extravaganza, 4H shows, you name it. We have nothing like it in the whole of TB area. People LOVE animals.

  8. Mark A Parker

    Mark A Parker

    February 16, 2024at3:50 pm

    Excellent ideas ^^

  9. Avatar

    MelvinJunior

    February 16, 2024at2:12 pm

    It would be a HUGE plus for the stadium to be built to accommodate basketball… Hopefully, it has the right ‘set-up’ to watch/view a basketball game. Then, they could attract both Men’s & Women’s NCAA Regionals/Tournament Games & possibly even a Final-4. That would be GrrrrREAT… FANTASTIC for the city/county & surrounding areas!!!! One thing they could go after & SHOULD aggressively pursue, would be “The SEC Baseball Tournament” (now in Hoover, AL)!!!! They have had a horrendous time (due to bad weather), for the past several years now, JUST getting the games ‘in’ (before the NCAA “Selection Show”). I believe they are getting tired of it, and are ready to begin exploring ‘other options’ even though, they loooove (their relationship with) Hoover. St. Pete, with a brand new ‘rain/storm proof’ stadium & their downtown would make one heckuva sell to the SEC. You couldn’t beat-it. It’d be PERFECT. You could always ‘tarp-off’ the upper decks, since there’s no-way they’d ever fill-it… At least not for several years, anyway. It would be the perfect opportunity for the city to give out any additional tickets (unfilled seats) to local baseball/softball players and the “underserved” in the area, from the local school system. It would a GREAT experience for all.

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