Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hillsborough County Readies Pocket Change for Rays Stadium in Effort to Outbid Pinellas

TAMPA, Florida - Hillsborough County commissioners chose an investment bank for the financing of a potential new Rays stadium even though there are no public plans for a stadium, no indication of how many public dollars may be needed, and seemingly little appetite in the county to redirect tax dollars to a third pro stadium.

Commissioners voted to name Citigroup its bank for any public costs related to a new baseball stadium, which the county's lead negotiator, commissioner Ken Hagan, said he hoped would be limited to just "infrastructure."

"We have yet to have any discussion (with the Rays) regarding any financing," Hagan said. "But it is critically important that we have the best of the best assist us when we begin that discussion."

But the lack of details about where a new Rays stadium might go - or how it would be paid - continues a trend of behind-closed-doors meetings that keep taxpayers in the dark about where their money could eventually end up.

RELATED: Where Hillsborough Commission candidates stand on the stadium saga

There's also been little to no collaboration between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, increasing the chance the two counties might end up in a bidding war over the Rays' future home.  (Can't we all just get along?  Arrrgghh.)

Hagan, who repeatedly ignored interview requests from 10Investigates in recent months, told a 10News WTSP reporter that he had hoped to bring a plan to his fellow commissioners within six months, including a preferred site, financing plan and public uses for a new Major League Baseball stadium.

"It's not practical to discuss land acquisition in public," Hagan said. "I wish it were, but we are trying to avoid land prices escalating through the roof. So that's why it's very important (to do) some things privately."

County attorney Chip Fletcher said the negotiating group had a "long way to go" before narrowing its current list of "about 10" potential sites down to a preferred two or three.

But despite the conversation centering around potential ballpark financing, there was once again little discussion about the actual financing mechanisms on the table. Discussions about tax revenues wouldn't seem to be subject to the same kind of speculation-related inflation Hagan and Fletcher referenced regarding location acquisition.

RELATED: Land isn't problem in stadium saga; financing is

While Pinellas County has robust tourist tax revenues, which could potentially bond upwards of $200 million in stadium construction, Hillsborough County's available tourist tax revenues would likely bond no more than $75 million. Additional revenues, such as a rental car tax, have been discussed but are considered neither particularly lucrative nor politically popular.

RELATED: Powerful Pinellas Senator gets involved in stadium saga
RELATED: Where Pinellas commission candidates stand on the stadium saga

Several Hillsborough commissioners expressed different degrees of hesitation Wednesday about the lack of transparency thus far in negotiations with the Rays, as well as the questionable return on investment of a taxpayer-subsidized facility. Hagan and Fletcher both responded they would be more forthcoming this fall when discussions about money progress, but so far, public talks would be "premature."

"We don't have any idea right now what the team's willing to contribute (or) what we're willing to support," Hagan told commissioners. "But we're getting ready to have that discussion, and that's why it's important we have subject matter experts with us to assist us in that process."

Murman and Hagan were both among the sitting commissioners who pledged not to use tax dollars for a MLB stadium back in 2010.

Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn both said their next meeting with the Rays would be in early October. Buckhorn was out of the county Wednesday and not available for comment.

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  1. Wouldn't it be cool if local government was as concerned about sewage and storm drain problems as they are about giving Stu Sternberg hundreds of millions of dollars? If they were, they would be actively lobbying state government to change the law regarding disposition of tourist tax dollars so that they could be used to benefit all citizens of the counties, instead of just Stu Sternberg.

  2. "The next wave of development came in the mid-90s, when Amalie Arena, formerly known as the Ice Palace, was built...
    There was a push in the '90s to redevelop the urban core and using a sports stadium was a catalyst for Tampa," Kite-Powell said. "It brought new hotels to downtown and helped draw people back to the city.""

    1. "Despite the crowds that come to Amalie Arena for hockey games and concerts, little development had sprung up around the arena in the nearly two decades since it opened."