Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pinellas, Hillsborough Doing Everything They Can to Create Rays Bidding War

Elected leaders in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties vowed to do anything possible to keep the Rays in the region long-term. But my latest report for WTSP-TV reveals there's been zero coordination between the two sides as they each compete to build the Rays a new ballpark, even disagreeing on informal ground rules to prevent a bidding war.

As the Rays' stadium saga enters its 10th year, officials in both Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg have been meeting privately with the team to discuss possible stadium locations.

Hillsborough's lead negotiator, County Commissioner Ken Hagan, told WDAE-AM on Monday {audio starts at 7:30 mark here} he has worked with the Rays to narrow a list of sites down to "one or two" that would connect Tampa's downtown, Channelside, and Ybor neighborhoods together.

Hagan, who has repeatedly refused WTSP's interview requests, also said the county's bankers in New York have been meeting with the Rays' banking team to discuss stadium financing, possibly a bigger challenge for the region than finding an appropriate site.

RELATED: Hagan, Rays avoid transparency

But that conflicts with what St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he was hoping for to avoid a potential bidding war between Hillsborough and Pinellas.

"When we start getting into detailed conversations about financing," Kriseman said, "what we set ourselves up for is a bidding war, and then the taxpayers are the losers when that happens.”

St. Petersburg has been meeting with the Rays privately as well, and seems to hold a distinct advantage over Hillsborough County when it comes to available funding streams for a new stadium, since Hillsborough is already paying for two other stadiums and a convention center.

Kriseman has also been bullish on the possibility of a new stadium next to the existing stadium, so redevelopment at the Tropicana Field site could help fund the project.

When asked why he hasn't sat down at the table with the Rays and Tampa/Hillsborough officials, Kriseman said he expected each side to pitch its best site and let the Rays choose their favorite. Kriseman said he hoped both counties would then rally around the chosen site and hope the financing fell into place.

"We’re not getting into a bidding war because that doesn’t do any of us any good," Kriseman said.

St. Pete has even enlisted Dick Vitale in its "Baseball Forever" campaign.

But strictly looking at location, Hillsborough may have an advantage. The possibility of a stadium within walking distance to both Channelside and Ybor City may be difficult to pass up. However, the financing would be a major challenge there.

“For this to work, the team’s going to have to be at the table with at least $200 million, maybe $250 million," Hagan said on WDAE.

He added the overall cost of a stadium might be in the “550 to 700 million-dollar range," depending on things like whether it would have a retractable roof and an upper deck.

But that leaves a funding gap of at least $300-400 million. Hillsborough County's tourist tax would likely fund only about $75-80 million of construction.

Hagan said in 2010 that he objected to any public funding going toward a new stadium, but has changed his tune in recent years, telling WDAE "there will have to be some public money involved, hopefully primarily tourist tax dollars.”

RELATED: How Ken Hagan flipped on Rays stadium subsidies

Hagan suggested tax dollars could contribute toward a project's "infrastructure" and "perhaps mass transit."

The Rays have also not responded to WTSP's requests for comment regarding possible funding and preferred locations.

But the team has two more years to explore both sides of the bay. And given the lack of political opportunity for substantial subsidies right now, it appears they may continue to take their time.

Following his interview with me, Kriseman tweeted the following:

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  1. So in 2010 Hagan was advocating 0% funding by the public. In 2017 Hagan is advocating as much as 71% public funding (up to $500 million of $700 million). So at this 10% a year growth rate, by 2020 he will be advocating 100% public funding. Looks like the Rays just have to wait 3 more years and then pay nothing for the new stadium.

  2. "Bidding wars"? lol, does anybody believe these opinions? Is this what sells in the media these days? Are people really this dumb? Well, that last one I believe! There is no "bidding wars", that is just some hyped up digressive narrative that doesn't hold any water. They're ALL on the same page, and smarter people understand that some stuff is said to appease the Rays fans VOTERS...