Those of us in the Tampa Bay media have been covering the recent $160 million expansion push from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which assumes the availability of bed tax dollars. But few people outside the newsrooms have discussed how funding an aqaurium would eliminate Pinellas County's advantage over Hillsborough County when it comes to financing a stadium.
Now, the Tampa Bay Times puts it in the mainstream:
There's also the need for more beach renourishment money too, since Pinellas County's beaches will draw more people than an aquarium or stadium ever could, but that's a discussion for another day.Aquarium officials note that the construction bonds for Tropicana Field that are backed by bed taxes will be paid off in 2015, potentially freeing up millions of dollars for other projects.
However, the Tampa Bay Rays want a new stadium sometime in the next decade, an endeavor that could top $600 million.
With the team and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster at loggerheads, nothing concrete is in the works. But stadium backers have always counted on the bed tax as a bedrock starting point if Pinellas County has any shot at cobbling together new stadium financing.
"We want the Rays to stay. I hope they do," said former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who's on the aquarium's board and is a former TDC member. "But if no progress is made on a stadium, is that money just going to sit there in perpetuity? At some point you're going to move forward."
The bigger takeaway is how the aquarium's request could expedite the baseball stadium discussion. Last November, the St. Pete and Tampa chambers of commerce said "we don't have a lot of time":
"In this environment, when the economy is tight (and) nobody wants to increase taxes," chamber spokesman Chuck Sykes said, "when that debt is paid off, (available money) is not going to sit there. It's going to be claimed."
There's probably not enough room in the Pinellas County budget for a new aquarium and a new stadium....unless, of course, Pinellas and Hillsborough cooperated and pooled their resources to help the Rays.