TAMPA, Florida -- As the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) take baby steps toward pooling the money necessary for a new baseball stadium, baseball fans in Tampa Bay are preparing for what could be a tumultuous winter in the Stadium Saga.
Read all of 10 News' coverage of the Rays Stadium Saga
The Tampa Bay Rays have indicated - regardless of their current use agreement at Tropicana Field and regardless of what kind of progress groups in Pinellas make - they will only continue new stadium sites on the West of the bay if sites on the East of the bay were also considered.
So far, most Hillsborough County officials have been bystanders in the debate, but further pressure from the Rays to consider sites in Tampa could test the willingness of the new Hillsborough commission to get involved.
10 News reached out to every Hillsborough BOCC candidate in the Nov. 2 general election to see where he or she stood on the topic of keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay.
Sandy Murman (R) - Murman said Hillsborough commissioners should be at the table for any new stadium discussions because the Rays have a lot to do with generating revenue in Tampa Bay. But she wants the Hillsborough BOCC to let St. Pete and the Rays drive the debate for now. She said she didn't know exactly when it would be the right time to get involved. A strict anti-tax believer, Murman says no Hillsborough dollars should be used for baseball, regardless of the economy. But she said bed tax dollars could be explored if a stadium was ever considered in Tampa since the county doesn't have many other possible revenue sources.
John Dingfelder (D) - After saying in a September television interview that the Rays should be in Downtown Tampa, Dingfelder said the county needs to be "courteous to Pinellas County and St. Petersburg...but if they don't step up to save the Rays, it will be up to Hillsborough if we want to step up." Thinks a Downtown Tampa stadium could be mutually beneficial to the team and city. Dingfelder says a ballot initiative should come before any public stadium financing but wants to respect the St. Petersburg use agreement before all else and encourages the private sector to step up and help the St. Pete/Pinellas efforts.
Victor Crist (R) - Disappointed the stadium debate lacks a regional collaboration like other Tampa Bay assets (i.e. utilities), Crist says municipalities in Tampa Bay need to focus on helping each other so the favors are later returned. Trying to lure a resource from one Tampa Bay community to another is like competing against yourself. Says Hillsborough BOCC should help Pinellas County keep the Rays, just like he'd expect help in luring the World Cup to Tampa in 2018.
Crist adds a Tampa stadium is only a last-resort option since St. Pete taxpayers have a "sizable investment in the Rays already and that needs to be protected." And with a shrinking economy, all expenditures need to be prioritized and funding a stadium can't compete with "police, schools, and life-sustaining services."
Steven Morris (NPA) - Saying it doesn't matter where the Rays play - as long as they stay in Tampa Bay - Morris says the current use agreement with St. Petersburg needs to be respected by Hillsborough officials. He says the BOCC should only get involved if St. Pete officials sign off on it, and a stadium in Hillsborough should only be considered if it can be built without tax dollars. Morris says other services are more important than a stadium and the BOCC's only role may be to help facilitate business and citizen relationships with the team.
Les Miller, Jr. (D) - Miller admits the location of Tropicana Field keeps him from attending more games but "cannot - in clear judgement - ask the people of Hillsborough County to pay for a new stadium" given the county's other needs right now. Doesn't think the BOCC needs to even discuss the concept until the Rays demonstrate a huge committment from the private sector. Miller says public dollars need to be prioritized elsewhere because the county is struggling to provide so many other services.
District 5 (Countywide)
Ken Hagan (R) - Hillsborough's most outspoken commissioner on the stadium saga has also been the most elusive this campaign season. Hagan failed to return our email, three messages to his office, and one voicemail on his cell phone seeking comment for this story.
He has gone on-the-record suggesting a regional task force could help keep the team and is currently running a radio ad acknowledging "It's important to our community and our economy to have a plan...a vote for me is a vote for future sporting events (in Hillsborough County)." Hagan doesn't say what his plan is, but says he'd rather the team play in Tampa than in another state. He hasn't suggested a possible funding source, other than saying public dollars were off the table.
Linda Saul-Sena (D) - A self-described Rays fan, Saul-Sena said she can't stand to see the team leave. But thinks Hagan and the Hillsborough BOCC have already overstepped their bounds when their sister government has a current use agreement with the team. And even if St. Pete/Pinellas allowed a stadium search to consider Hillsborough County, no tax dollars should be spent on a stadium without a public referendum.
Jim Hosler (NPA) - Hosler did not return an email requesting comment, but the economic consultant is a proponent of lower taxes and less government.
District 7 (Countywide)
Mark Sharpe (R) - With taxpayer dollars committed elsewhere for the foreseeable future and current Tampa franchises like the Lightning needing venue modernization soon, Sharpe thinks the only role for the Hillsborough BOCC on the Rays' future is a backseat one. He says the public financing priorities need to be on other services and Hillsborough governments need to work with their Pinellas counterparts - and not against them.
Citing accessibility as the biggest hurdle to a successful stadium in St. Pete, Sharpe would prefer to use power of the Hillsborough BOCC to improve transportation to St. Petersburg. He also acknowledged The Trop may simply be too far from fans in Eastern Hillsborough and Central Florida and a more central venue - with pedestrian access to restaurants and shops - would work better. But said building a Tampa stadium would be cost-prohibitive.
Neil Cosentino (NPA) - Believing the stadium debate is for St. Petersburg and Pinellas Co. to handle, Cosentino says Hillsborough doesn't have the funding to get involved in the debate. He thinks bus improvements (i.e. merging HART and PSTA) would give more people in Hillsborough Co. access to Tropicana Field. And if St. Pete were able to develop residential/business condos around the park, while removing the Dome from the stadium, The Trop could thrive into the next decade. Thinks Hillsborough commissioners should only get involved if last resort to losing team, but even then, it would be up to private investors to save the team.
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.