Monday, August 21, 2017

With Local & State Tax Money Sparse, Hillsborough Wonders if Federal Transit Money Could Pay for Rays Stadium

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Florida - With a long list of projects in need of local tax dollars and the poor track record of professional teams landing state stadium subsidies in recent years, Hillsborough County may be eyeing federal dollars to help get a new Rays stadium built in - or near - Downtown Tampa.

Emails obtained by WTSP-TV Monday reveal separate meetings recently taken by both the Rays and Hillsborough County administrators with a transportation consultant.

On August 2, Mark Aesch, the CEO of TransPro Consulting, wrote Hillsborough County CFO Bonnie Wise an email with the subject, "Rays and Transit Livable Communities Funding."

According to national nonprofit Next City, the Livable Community Act supports local projects focused around transit-oriented development, encourage density, and decrease the negative impact of development on the environment.

Excerpts from Aesch's email include:
"I've been interacting with (Rays Senior V.P.) Melanie (Lenz) and the team over at the Rays .... and having discussions about how we have successfully used federal transportation dollars to create partnerships with community priorities (transit $$ into a Performing Arts Center - university, etc)."

"In any case --- the folks at the Rays have been very interested," Aesch continued. "Melanie asked me to reach out to you - hence my having a great opportunity to do so! I am actually meeting w Mike and Chip on another topic on Monday August 7 ..... so if perhaps late AM might work for you ---- would love to be together."
Ensuing emails showed Wise and Aesch arranged an afternoon meeting on Aug. 7.

The Rays declined comment on this story, while Aesch did not respond to a Monday afternoon email requesting comment.

A county spokesperson said Wise was the only employee available to comment on the matter, but she would be unavailable until Wednesday this week.

RELATED: Ken Hagan, Hillsborough Man of Mystery

However, the Rays have been outspoken about the importance of transit improvements to their future in Tampa Bay, making several political donations to local transit political campaigns over the years.

Details about how Hillsborough County would potential fund a stadium - and how many tax dollars would be in-play - have been few and far between. County commissioner and lead Rays negotiator, Ken Hagan, has avoided creating public record or making public comments regarding the tax dollars discussed behind closed doors.

However, Rays owner Stu Sternberg recently donated $1,000 to Hagan's re-election campaign. Hagan did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

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