Thursday, August 18, 2016

Where Pinellas Commission Candidates Stand on a New Rays Stadium

While select leaders - on both sides of Tampa Bay - debate the future of the Rays, any possible public funding for a new stadium will ultimately require the approval of either the Hillsborough or Pinellas County commissions.

10News WTSP asked each candidate running for a commission seat this year about his or her opinions on a new stadium. Below is a summary of their answers. Primary day is August 30 with general elections in November.

2016: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand
2014: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand
2014: Where Pinellas BOCC candidates stand
2012: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand
2010: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand

* = incumbent
Write-in candidates were not included.

District 1 (No Election)
Janet Long* (D) – An outspoken advocate of the commission’s increased role with stadium negotiations, Long said she had opinions on where a stadium should go and how it should be funded...but wouldn’t elaborate much on either idea. She has frequently criticized fellow Democrat and St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman for not bringing the county commission into the stadium conversation. And she suggested state dollars might be on the table if Pinellas County’s bed taxes weren’t enough public dollars to fund a new stadium.

District 3
Mike Mikurak (R) – Challenging the incumbent commission chair, Mikurak is openly critical of the role the commission has played in discussions so far and what he considers a lack of planning legwork to this point. “There is also little forecasting as to what will happen if it moves to Tampa which is a very real possibility,” Mikurak said. But on the topic of whether public resources should be committed toward a new Rays stadium in Pinellas County, Mikurak said it would depend on “verifiable investment benefits,” which are typically quite subjective when it comes to stadiums. He said he was open to using bed tax dollars for a stadium to “invest & promote sustainable jobs”, but “limited taxpayer resources should not be used for the sole benefit of private sector business.”

Charlie Justice* (D) – The sitting commission chair, Justice has supported the county’s methodical approach toward helping the Rays explore more than a dozen potential stadium sites from Oldsmar to Derby Lane to Downtown St. Petersburg and explained, “Commission and Administrator are in frequent communication with the team as they perform their due diligence” and the process can be slow and frustrating, “but it is a generational decision and we must make the right one.” Justice expressed confidence that the county would have enough revenue in its robust bed tax collections to help fund a new stadium without any additional tax revenues and his only preferred site was one “where the team will be successful in building a strong attendance base.”

District 5 (No Election)
Karen Seel* (R) – An incumbent commissioner, Seel expressed her confidence in the county’s current baseball plan, adding that she had no personal preference for a future stadium location. She said she would “only support using limited amount of bed taxes only from and in Pinellas County” and that she would like to see the team go through the county’s new capital funding process to make their case for public financing. Seel also said she’d like to see any new stadium include features that could be “widely used by the community.”

District 7 (No Election)
Ken Welch* (D) – Longtime commissioner Ken Welch, representing most of St. Petersburg, has quietly played an active role in stadium discussions over the years. He advocated for the county to hold off on committing bed tax dollars to other major projects until the Rays stadium is settled. Pinellas County’s bed tax might bond upwards of $200 million in stadium construction. Welch also lobbied for St. Petersburg to include the county in stadium discussions, resulting in his appointment to the city’s “Baseball Forever” campaign group, aimed at keeping the Rays in the city for decades to come.

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