Rays Stadium Saga: where Pinellas commission candidates stand

4:27 PM, Oct 29, 2012   |    comments
An aerial view of Tropicana Field
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - As the Stadium Saga draws multiple municipalities into a drawn-out "chess match," the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) expects to play an important role in discussions.  And Election Day will decide who the county's decision-makers will be.

10 News has reported where Hillsborough commission candidates stand on the stadium issue, and now it's the Pinellas candidates' turn.

TIMELINE: 10 News coverage of the Rays Stadium Saga
BLOG:
Noah Pransky's Shadow of the Stadium

District 1 (At-Large)
Neil Brickfield (R) -
Commissioner Brickfield indicates to 10 News that, on the issue of a new stadium, the ball remains firmly in Pinellas County's court.

"There aren't any stadium talks in Hillsborough today and by contract, there doesn't seem to be any coming anytime soon," he said in an e-mail.  "I am interested in the Rays playing in Pinellas County and want to exhaust all Pinellas possibilities.  Our community needs to decide if we want the Rays to stay and if the benefit is worth the investment."

Brickfield, while apparently open to discussing an extension of the bed tax, opposes discussing any new revenue streams for a stadium without first seeing a stadium proposal, finance plan, and economic benefit plan. "I will not sign onto a blank check for proposals that do not exist," he said.

Brickfield made the motion in 2010 to extend - then retire - the county's bed tax in 2021, when all of its stadium obligations are fulfilled.  He also voted this summer to invite the Rays to speak to the BOCC about future stadium plans, despite legal threats from the City of St. Petersburg. 

Janet Long (D) - A former state representative, Long advocates a hands-off approach with the Rays since she says the county's existing agreement is with the City of St. Petersburg.  The Rays have a separate agreement with St. Pete.

"From my perspective," Long said in an e-mail to 10 News, "it is premature to talk about funds for a new stadium for the Rays. This is a conversation that needs to be settled between the City of St. Petersburg and the Rays.

"Obviously, Pinellas County should be engaged in these discussions at some level since we do have a fiduciary responsibility to our constituents to ensure that the debt on the bonds is paid off."

On whether she could support a Rays stadium in Hillsborough County, Long said she would first want to exhaust every option to keep the team in Pinellas County. She said she would also want to see a lot of evidence that the private sector would be stepping up for a Tampa stadium.

"It isn't the function of government to subsidize multi-million dollar team owners," Long said.

District 3 (At-Large)
Nancy Bostock (R) - Commissioner Bostock has been cautious and deliberate as Pinellas County inches forward in talks of a new stadium. While she voted this summer to invite the Rays to speak to the BOCC about future stadium plans, she also voted against extending the tourist tax once Tropicana Field bonds are paid off in 2015.

"The Rays are committed to St. Petersburg until 2027," Bostock told 10 News in an e-mail. "Pinellas County has been generous in funding Tropicana Field. I support the Rays remaining in St. Petersburg and if not, somewhere else in Pinellas County."

But Bostock also said Hillsborough County would be preferable to the team leaving the region altogether and said she wanted a full vetting of return on investment before discussing county contributions to a new stadium. She would neither commit to - nor rule out - support for a stadium on the opposite side of the bay.

Charlie Justice (D) - A former state senator, Justice tells 10 News that "quality of life, including the positive impact of having the Rays here, is my top priority and that will be my priority when evaluating stadium decisions."

"Pinellas County should not be the obstacle that keeps a deal from getting done," Justice added, "but I also do not believe that Pinellas can afford to bear the brunt of expenses for the stadium as well."

Justice wants to keep the county's tourist tax in-place, even after Tropicana Field bonds are paid off, so the funds could be applied toward a future stadium or other capital project.  And he thinks if the county works together with its municipal and business leaders, it can create a successful future home for the Rays on the West side of Tampa Bay.

But, like Bostock, Justice said Hillsborough County would be a preferable stadium location for the Rays than Charlotte, N.C.  He would neither commit to - nor rule out - support for a stadium on the opposite side of the bay.

District 5
Karen Seel (R)
- Unopposed for re-election, Seel declined to participate in 10 News' questionnaire and was not present this August when the BOCC voted unanimously to invite the Rays to conference about their future.

In 2010, she voted to extend the county's bed taxes until 2021 to preserve stadium funding options, but at the time said, "a plan was just a plan" and the county had plenty of opportunity to change course in the next few years.  She has met privately with developers hoping to build a new stadium in Pinellas County's "Gateway" region, but has made few public comments about the Rays' future.
 

District 7
Ken Welch (D) -  Commissioner Welch did not reply to 10 News' questionnaire, but has been active in the stadium discussions.  Currently the only Democrat on the BOCC, he has long contended all revenue streams need to be on the table for all county needs, including the Rays.  However, he said in 2010 that budget problems will prohibit any municipality in Tampa Bay from building a new stadium anytime soon.

Welch also voted to extend the tourist tax past 2015 once Tropicana Field bonds are paid off, and this past summer, voted to invite the Rays to speak to the BOCC.

A longtime St. Pete resident, Welch often takes his Rays fandom to Twitter, like last year when he wrote, "Watching the Rays game - The ESPN commentators whining about the Trop got old a couple of hours (or years) ago..."

Buck Walz (R) - An operations manager at a local building materials company, Walz says there's no need for a new stadium and isn't convinced a new stadium would even help Rays attendance much.  He opposes "a blank check" for the team and wants to see "return on investment" for any county expenditure.

Walz would like to see tourist taxes lowered in 2015, once Tropicana Field bonds are paid off.  He also indicated he could possibly support a new stadium in Hillsborough County, but "that would depend on what Pinellas County will receive in return." 

Read all of 10 News' coverage of the Rays Stadium Saga

Follow 10 News reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky, Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky, or on his Sports Business blog, Shadow of the Stadium.

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