Rays stadium in Tampa won't happen if Hillsborough County has to pay

5:54 AM, May 20, 2010   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida - On the day they met with the ABC Coalition, Hillsborough County Commissioners passed a motion pledging support for a new stadium if - and when - the Rays decide to talk to them.

However, a majority of the commissioners also pledged not to use public money to finance a stadium.  Most experts consider the lack of public dollars an insurmountable hurdle to moving the Rays to Tampa.

Follow our continuing coverage of the Rays' stadium saga here.

"The current facility is not a (long-term) option," said Commissioner Ken Hagen, who invited the ABC Coalition to present its findings.

The Coalition has spent the better part of the last two years studying how to preserve baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come.  You can read their findings here.

"We don't want to lose (the Rays)," said Commissioner Rose Frelita, who added "we" means "the region."

Commissioners said they'd like a "seat at the table" whenever the Rays decide to move forward with negotiations, regardless of which county they target.

"I don't want the team to leverage Hillsborough County against Pinellas County," Frelita added.

Pinellas County and St. Pete currently share the majority of the debt service on Tropicana Field.  While the stadium will be paid off in a few years, the general consensus is that the venue will need to be replaced before the team's contract to play there runs out in 2027.

A new stadium is estimated to cost upwards of $500 million and the debt service to local governments could more than double.

Meanwhile, as 10 Connects was the first to report on Tuesday, a grass-roots fan group is forming a development corporation to purchase land in Downtown Tampa.  They hope to have contracts in-place by the end of summer and would offer to gift the $25 million worth of land to the Rays by the end of the year.

"This is big money," said Ryan Neubauer, speaking on behalf of the investment group.  "It's going to begin to demonstrate the individual commitment this area has toward this team."

Neubauer founded "Build it Downtown Tampa," an organization dedicated to getting a new stadium added to what he calls "the urban fabric of this community."

He admits $25 million is a tiny percentage of what a new stadium will cost, but he's hoping it leads to more commitments from investors and creative financing ideas from elected officials.

"What we want to do is elevate the discussion," he said.  "Hopefully (we) open up some minds about the bigger picture here - keeping the team here."

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster remains unfazed by the Rays-to-Tampa talk, telling 10 Connects that there's no money in Hillsborough County's budget to build a stadium and the team is committed to playing at Tropicana Field until 2027.

As to whether a stadium could be built without public financing, Craig Sher from the ABC Coalition said, "It's just not going to happen."

"There's not that kind of revenue and profit-potential in Major League sports - particularly baseball - to privately-finance a whole stadium," he said.

Foster added that he has tried to get the Rays to sit down and discuss their future needs, but hasn't had any response from management.

On Tuesday, Rays Senior V.P. Michael Kalt said, "We're going to give ourselves a little bit of time (before addressing the stadium issue)."

"Maybe it's in-season, maybe it's after the season," Kalt continued, "We just want people to concentrate on the best team in baseball... when the time's right, (team owner) Stu (Sternberg) will engage the city."

Read more about the ongoing Rays Stadium Saga here.  Or follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky, Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky, or on his Sports vs. News blog, Shadow of the Stadium. 

Noah Pransky, 10 Connects

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