Two days after the surprise announcement that Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has secured land for a proposed stadium site for the Tampa Bay Rays, rumors and speculation continue to circulate, with many opining that maybe this isn’t the luscious panacea it has been made out to be. While there is a lot of excitement because we are that much closer to resolution, it still bears mentioning that this is merely Hillsborough County — by way of Hagan — saying what it thinks is its best for the Rays.
Certainly, the proposed site doesn’t guarantee that the Rays will break ground on a new Ybor City facility just yet. To the contrary, as Auld indicated in his comment, the Rays are only just scratching the surface of evaluating the newly proposed construction site, and they’ll likely do the same with 10 other potential locations before ultimately determining a course of action.
There also is the matter of the Rays’ current lease at Tropicana Field, which reportedly runs through the 2027 season. Terminating that lease early will come with its own set of financial repercussions, including millions of dollars that will need to be paid out to the city of St. Petersburg, as well as the forfeiture of a 50 percent share of development rights at the Tropicana Field site, Steve Adams (MLB Trade Rumors) writes.
ne of the biggest proponents of a move across the bay — sought to orient readers to the place where the Rays may one day play ball by answering five critical questions.
1. SO WHAT’S THERE NOW?
The short answer is a whole lot of ugly.
Most of the land around Adamo Drive is zoned industrial or commercial for businesses connected to the nearby Port of Tampa. And an elevated section of the Selmon Expressway doesn’t exactly make for great sight-lines, either. If the nosebleed seats are high enough, fans might get views of the ship repair businesses in the Port of Tampa along with the Ybor Channel.
The actual ballpark site includes S & S Craftsman, a woodworking and mill business, and a moving and storage business. Just two blocks east is Skin Tampa, one of about a half-dozen strip clubs on Adamo Drive. Further east are a bunch of warehouses, including one owned by Fabricated Products of Tampa, whose south-facing wall is the canvas for “American Journey,” which at 12,600-square-feet is one of the largest murals in Florida.
2. WHO OWNS THE LAND AND HOW MUCH IS IT WORTH?
The potential ballpark site consists of 11 parcels owned by five different companies, including Tampa Electric, a roofing supplies distributor based in New York City and several limited liability companies formed by Darryl Shaw, the CEO of the BluePearl veterinary clinics, as well as Joe Capitano Sr., Jacob “Booky” Buchman, Salvatore Guagliardo and Andy Scaglione.
The parcels have a combined estimated market value of more than $7.9 million, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office. In addition to the parcels’ acreage, the ballpark footprint includes parts of E Second Avenue, E Third Avenue and N Avenue Republica de Cuba. Mayor Bob Buckhorn previously has said the city would be open to vacating streets to help create a ballpark site.
3. WHAT DOES THIS LOCATION OFFER IN TERMS OF FINANCING?
The proposed stadium site is partly inside one of two community redevelopment areas for Ybor City. And of the two, it is the Ybor CRA that generates the least amount of property taxes that can go toward public improvements: just $164,000 in 2016.
Some property tax revenue generated inside CRAs can be used to pay for public infrastructure or improvements intended to foster further growth. (Downtown CRA funds, for example, will reimburse developers for building new roads and putting in larger utility lines at the $3 billion Water Street Tampa redevelopment nearby.)
If built where proposed, the ballpark would be directly across Channelside Drive from a piece of property known as the Gas Worx. Owned by Shaw, the Gas Worx is inside the downtown CRA, which in 2016 generated more than $9 million for such projects. So the ballpark property wouldn’t necessarily benefit from the downtown CRA, but the Gas Worx might, especially if developed with restaurants, bars and retail to serve baseball fans.
4. HOW WOULD THE LAND BE ACQUIRED?
Hagan says Shaw, who has emerged as a major player in Ybor City’s real estate market, is playing a key role in helping to assemble the parcels for the ballpark. There’s a Tampa precedent for having a private investor help secure land for a major sports facility. In the 1990s, when Tampa and Hillsborough officials were working to build a hockey arena for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Harbour Island developer Finn Caspersen — in some ways, the Jeff Vinik of his day — agreed to put up nearly $9 million to acquire the rights to a key piece of property for the arena on the understanding he would get the money back when officials closed the deal.
5. AND EVERYBODY IS ON BOARD RIGHT?
Umm …. not exactly. Hagan’s impromptu announcement wasn’t just news to Rays fans. It came as a surprise to other local leaders and seemed to catch the team off guard, too.
Hagan’s commission colleague Victor Crist was livid Wednesday that he learned about the plan through the media. Crist said it was a violation of protocol for Hagan to unveil a location and present it to the Rays without first getting the approval of the entire commission.
Crist’s fear is that this has been branded publicly as Hillsborough County’s plan, when the county commission hasn’t even seen it, let alone vote on it.
“This has had no vetting by the county commission. This has had no vetting of public input,” Crist said. “This whole thing has been done in a vacuum behind the scenes, out of the sunshine and that is not how the Board of County Commissioners operates.”
Hagan’s other colleagues were less bothered. Commissioners Al Higginbotham, Les Miller and Sandy Murman said they weren’t expecting an announcement Tuesday but nevertheless had no problem with Hagan making public the preferred site.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told reporters that he, too, was caught off guard although he approves the location.
And the Rays themselves responded a few hours later with a lukewarm noncommittal statement that they will evaluate the site along with other options on both sides of Tampa Bay. Major League Baseball teams are reticent to make news during the World Series and the Rays may not have wanted their potential move to be a factor in the hotly contested St. Petersburg mayoral race.
Regardless of what Hagan says publicly, it’s clear that a new stadium in Hillsborough County will cost taxpayers a pretty penny.
The team once was willing to commit about $150-Million toward a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg — a sum that’s about $200-Million in 2017 thanks to inflation. That means Hillsborough County would have to come up with at least $500-Million more in public funds.
That ain’t going to come from property taxes, and it ain’t going to come from an increased sales tax. The type of referendum that built Raymond James Stadium in the 1990s is not viable today, writes John Romano (Tampa Bay Times)
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn seems to mirror that idea:
In this political climate, there is no way you can go to voters and ask them to pay for a baseball stadium. I’ve got a fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers, and I’m not going to burden them with a deal that doesn’t make sense.
I’m hoping (Hagan) has a secret financing plan to go along with his secret land assemblage plan. Because the Rays deserve our very best effort — and I’m willing to do my part — but it’s going to be a tough slog.
I’d hate to break it to any of you that are ready to spend Opening Day 2022 in brand Ybor City new digs, but nothing will happen if Stuart Sternberg doesn’t financially contribute to the cause. None locally are turned on by an owner that won’t pony up any funds toward our community or the cause … especially when Sternberg doesn’t even call our community his own.
And while franchise proxies like Melanie Lenz, Brian Auld, and Matt Silverman — all of whom are tasked with closing the deal for a new stadium, not Sternberg — contribute to this community, there has been (and continues to be) a great amount of animosity toward the principal owner of the Rays, which appears to be growing, not vanishing.
Another great question has been posed: Why leak the news now, especially when the entire proposal hasn’t been completed?
In less than two-weeks, on November 7, voters will take the polls and choose the next mayor of St. Petersburg, be that current Mayor Rick Kriseman or former Mayor Rick Baker
Buckhorn, a Kriseman supporter and fellow Democrat, told reporters that the news came at a bad time for Kriseman; that it puts the issue of the Rays possibly leaving St. Petersburg back on voters’ radar.
I think this could have been thought out more carefully — it would have been nice to see the Rays involved in this announcement. I don’t think the timing is helpful in the St. Pete election.
Brian Auld’s less-than-glowing reaction to Hagan’s announcement pointedly mentioned that Tropicana Field, along with nine other sites in Pinellas, are still in play for a new ballpark. The ball-club also has donated at least $81,500 to Kriseman’s reelection campaign.
Hagan, like Baker, is a Republican and it could be inferred that the timing of the announcement was politically motivated and intended to help a fellow party member, a claim which he denied when asked by the Tampa Bay Times. Neither Baker nor Hagen have financially contributed to each other’s campaigns.
While the Rays’ exit from Tropicana Field is spelled out in its contract with the city, the next mayor could make that process easier or harder — especially Baker, who is currently on the Rowdies’ payroll and in a position that he has no intention of leaving should he be voted back into office.
When asked by WTSP Channel 10, Kriseman acknowledged that the timing of Hagan’s announcement is a little interesting:
I think the timing is a little interesting, especially since (Ken Hagan) seems to be the only one that knew about it, he said. (Tampa) Mayor Buckhorn was taken by surprise, apparently some of (Hagan’s) colleagues on the commission were taken by surprise, and the Rays were taken by surprise.
Perhaps when Buckhorn called the allotment of funding toward a new stadium a slog, he also meant the slog of dirty political tricks.
— Further complicating things for Tampa/Hillsborough County, the state of Florida is suing Tampa over tourist fees which it called an ‘illegal tax.’
Following a 10 Investigates story exposing how the City of Tampa was allowing downtown and Ybor City hotels to get around the state’s cap on how much tourists can be taxed when checking out of a hotel room, Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, is suing the city of Tampa, calling the city’s new marketing fee an “illegal tax,” writes Noah Pransky (Shadow of the Stadium blog, WTSP Channel 10). The lawsuit was filed on Thursday.
According to Pransky, a dozen hotels in Downtown Tampa and Ybor City began charging the $1.50 per night fee this summer to boost marketing efforts. The fees were approved unanimously by city council, and were expected to give local hotels more than $1.5-Million per year for a fund, controlled by the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association (HCHMA).
However, Corcoran’s lawsuit claims Visit Tampa Bay already has received $55-Million from Hillsborough County for marketing over the last six years, and spent $140,000 of it to fund the HCHMA’s efforts to convince Tampa City Council to approve the new fee.
Approximately $30-Million total per year could be allocated, by Hillsborough County, toward marketing, although a large part of it is already committed to Raymond James Stadium, George M. Steinbrenner Field, and Amalie Arena, while it’s believed future revenue growth could be earmarked for a new stadium for the Rays in Hillsborough.