HILLS­BOR­OUGH AWAITS FEED­BACK ON ITS RAYS PLAN

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY CHRISTO­PHER O’DON­NELL Times Staff Writer

A let­ter sent to Ma­jor League Base­ball Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred and Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Stern­berg pro­vides new de­tails about the county’s pro­posed deal to build a new ball­park for the team.

The city and county con­tinue to plan for a sta­dium, await­ing the team’s feed­back.

TAMPA — The Rays’ pro­posed Ybor City ball­park could spur the con­struc­tion of 4 mil­lion square feet of sur­round­ing de­vel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to a study com­mis­sioned by the team.

The rev­enue gen­er­ated by that de­vel­op­ment is part of the county’s plan to build the es­ti­mated $900 mil­lion sta­dium. By com­par­i­son, down­town Tampa has about 6.1 mil­lion square feet of of­fice space. The new Water Street Tampa project is ex­pected to cre­ate 9 mil­lion square feet of of­fice, re­tail and res­i­den­tial space.

The ex­is­tence of the study and that key fig­ure in the sta­dium fi­nanc­ing deal Hills­bor­ough County of­fered to the team was cited in a let­ter sent this week on be­half of lo­cal lead­ers to MLB com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred and Rays owner Stu Stern­berg.

County of­fi­cials hope Man­fred will urge the Rays to ac­cept the deal.

Hills­bor­ough County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Mike Mer-

rill said the de­ci­sion to in­volve Man­fred makes sense. Mer­rill has set a dead­line of the end of the 2019 spring train­ing sea­son to get a deal done — oth­er­wise he has warned that base­ball may not come to Tampa.

“The base­ball com­mis­sioner has in­flu­ence on how a deal such as this gets done and chooses whether or not to be­come in­volved,” Mer­rill said. “As I un­der­stand it, the base­ball com­mis­sioner has to ap­prove deals any­way.”

The Rays have not re­sponded to the county’s pro­posal. The team has also not re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment from the

Tampa Bay Times.

The let­ter was drafted by Ir­win Raij, an at­tor­ney work­ing on be­half of the Tampa Sports Au­thor­ity who spe­cial­izes in sta­dium deals. He wrote that the pro­posal “rep­re­sents what lead­er­ship be­lieves the com­mu­nity could sup­port.”

Although the ball­park would be pub­licly owned, the let­ter says the county ex­pects the Rays to be re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing con­struc­tion. The team would also pay $3 mil­lion in an­nual rent pay­ments that would be set aside to pay for sta­dium main­te­nance and fu­ture up­grades. Those pay­ments would also in­crease over time.

The deal al­lows the team to build a 50,000 square foot sports medicine fa­cil­ity near the ball­park that could be used by the team and the pub­lic. The Rays would also re­ceive all rev­enue gen­er­ated by the sta­dium, such as ticket and con­ces­sions sales, ex­cept when it’s be­ing used to host com­mu­nity events.

De­vel­op­ment around the ball­park would be crit­i­cal in help­ing to pay the es­ti­mated $892 mil­lion price tag. A por­tion of the county’s $475 mil­lion share of the cost is ex­pected to come from prop­erty taxes col­lected in two of Tampa’s Com­mu­nity Re­de­vel­op­ment Ar­eas. New de­vel­op­ment in those ar­eas would in­crease prop­erty tax col­lec­tions. By law, those taxes can only be spent within the dis­trict bound­ary.

Also, a num­ber of landown­ers in and around the site have in­di­cated a will­ing­ness to tax them­selves as part of a Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Dis­trict in the ex­pec­ta­tion that their prop­er­ties would be­come more valu­able.

Were that 4 mil­lion square feet of new con­struc­tion to ma­te­ri­al­ize, it would mean new de­vel­op­ment would spread well be­yond the ball­park, lo­cated where Ybor City meets the Chan­nel Dis­trict.

The study was con­ducted by RCLCO, a real es­tate firm head­quar­tered in Wash­ing­ton D.C., and has not been re­leased by the Rays.

Most of the money for the ball­park is ex­pected to come from pri­vate in­vestors put­ting their cash into a fed­er­ally-des­ig­nated Op­por­tu­nity Zone the ball­park would lie within. A new law in­tended to spur re­de­vel­op­ment of low-in­come ar­eas al­lows in­vestors to avoid pay­ing taxes on prof­its earned else­where for up to 10 years.

Mer­rill ac­knowl­edged that of­fi­cials have not ruled out us­ing Com­mu­nity Re­de­vel­op­ment Area prop­erty taxes to make up any short­fall in the county’s share of the ball­park.

“The dis­tricts were es­tab­lished long ago be­fore there was even an idea the sta­dium would go there and the dol­lars have to stay in those CRA dis­tricts any­way,” he said.

Spend­ing of those funds would have to be ap­proved by the Tampa City Coun­cil, in ad­di­tion to any zon­ing and land-use de­ci­sions.

Tampa City Coun­cil mem­ber Char­lie Mi­randa said at Thurs­day’s meet­ing that he is tired of be­ing left in the dark re­gard­ing ball­park ne­go­ti­a­tions. At his re­quest, coun­cil mem­bers agreed to dis­cuss next week whether they should hold pub­lic hear­ings on the Rays deal.

Mayor Bob Buck­horn said it’s time for the Rays to re­spond to the county’s of­fer:

“There have been no com­mit­ments made by the City other than to our best ef­forts to work to see if this deal is at­tain­able and if not, to be pre­pared to walk away and wish them well in St. Peters­burg”

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