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Joe Henderson: Ken Hagan’s likely pitch for Rays stadium? It’s an investment

Perhaps no politician in Hillsborough County has been more identified with the effort to build a stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays than Ken Hagan.

The veteran County Commissioner was key in trying to convince the Rays that Ybor City was the right place to put a stadium. What he does behind the scenes could decide whether the proposed $892 million ballpark is ever built.

His absence at Tuesday’s pep rally/stadium unveiling at the Italian Club in Ybor was conspicuous. There certainly were many other public figures on hand, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Commissioner Sandy Murman.

I called Hagan’s office Wednesday just to double-check that he wasn’t there – it was a crowded room – and it was confirmed. The aide said he had no idea why Hagan missed the party.

I also called Hagan as of this writing and haven’t received a ring back.

It’s an election year and Hagan, a Republican, is running in District 2.

While many politicians in this atmosphere would be trying to stay an arm’s length from a pro sports team wanting public cash for a stadium, I can’t imagine Hagan is too concerned about winning.

He has raised more than $475,000 compared to about $46,000 combined for his two opponents – Democrat Angela Birdsong and Republican Chris Paradies.

Among his contributors: Rays owner Stu Sternberg.

Hagan has been on the Commission since 2002, and most of that time he has been reliably pro-business and development.

And brother, this stadium definitely qualifies as both.

Hagan has often pledged that no tax dollars will be used for a stadium, but let’s be blunt: If that’s the case, it won’t be built.

Sternberg all but ensured that Wednesday when he told The Tampa Bay Times editorial board that while, yes, the team will pay more than the $150 million he initially pitched, “I also know it’s not going to be multiples.”

If there was any doubt what he meant, Sternberg emphasized, “I don’t envision it” when asked if the Rays share of the project would cover at least half the cost. He then said that could change, but how much?

Certainly not enough to expect there is any doubt Sternberg eventually will look Hagan in the eye and tell him just how much Hillsborough County should expect to pay if it wants this stadium built.

This is a good time to recall that in 2012, Hagan was the lead dog in originally offering about $15 million in taxpayer-backed incentives to lure Bass Pro Shops to Brandon. His argument was that the return on the project in future taxes would more than cover the amount of the original investment.

After public outcry, the package was reduced to about $6.5 million in infrastructure improvements – and Bass Pro came to Brandon.

But keep the original pitch in mind: It’s not a subsidy, it’s an investment. The project will generate more in return than it will cost taxpayers. That’s what Hagan argued then to help land Bass Pro.

I’ll bet it’s what he will argue now to land a bigger fish.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Michael Moline, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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