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Stee-rike! ‘No guarantee’ of money for Rays stadium in Tampa

Ken Hagan is offering no guarantees for a possible Tampa Bay Rays stadium move to Ybor City.

For the first time since the Hillsborough County Commissioner divulged to the media last month that a site in Ybor City was identified where the Tampa Bay Rays could (maybe) relocate, Hagan addressed the issue with colleagues Wednesday.

During the hourlong discussion, Hagan admitted it may take more than a year — if ever — for a plan to come together to finance what is estimated to be an approximately $600 million stadium.

For more than seven years, Hagan has served as point man for negotiations with the team. But a couple of his colleagues were caught unaware when the story leaked last month.

While apologizing for that slight,  Hagan grew angry when two of his colleagues suggested that county staff now take the lead in negotiations with the Rays.

Three major steps that need to happen now, Hagan said, beginning with the Rays acknowledging that the location — 14 acres squeezed between Channelside Drive on the west, North 15th Street to the east, 4th Avenue to the north and Adamo Drive to the west — is a plan that they actually endorse.

Since the news broke last month, the club has maintained a virtual silence, except for an innocuous statement released after Hagan’s remarks.

“This is another important step in the site selection process, and we are grateful for the time and attention that went into making it a possibility,” Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld said Oct. 24. “We look forward to getting to work evaluating this option, along with those in Pinellas County including the Tropicana Field site, as a potential future home for Rays Baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come.”

Next is a private sector driven effort to begin to identify corporate support for the team moving to Tampa.

For more than a decade, Rays officials and others have lamented what they say has been insufficient support from businesses in St. Petersburg. Then again, there’s also been insufficient support from the entire region, as the team has been rock bottom in total attendance for the whole league for several years.

And then there’s that little thing about financing the structure, always considered the biggest challenge in this near decadelong saga.

“I want to be crystal clear that this will be an uphill battle,” Hagan admitted, adding that it will “likely take many months, and in the end, there’s no guarantee that a plan will ever be reached that can even be considered.”

He later added it could be at least a year before such a plan comes into place.

Hagan wanted County Administrator Mike Merrill and County Attorney Chip Fletcher to update the six other members of the Board of County Commissioners monthly on the progress on that front, as well as have the Rays provide “periodic” updates to the board.

Addressing concerns that the small footprint precluded much public parking on the site, Hagan said that with ride-sharing, the potential for autonomous vehicles to flourish and several public parking garages in Ybor City already existing, that shouldn’t be that huge of a concern. He did say there might be a need for another parking garage.

The owners of the land, local businessman Darryl Shaw and his partners, have entered into an option agreement with a nonprofit led by Tampa lawyer Ron Christaldi and businessman Charles Sykes. Nonprofit status exempts the deal from public records laws.

During the discussion, Commissioner Pat Kemp proposed that Merrill and Fletcher now take the reins from Hagan, with County Chair Stacy White voicing his support. But the other commissioners pushed back, siding with Hagan and saying that now was not the time to show less than a united front.

“I’m confident it sends a signal that we’re not behind Ken,” said a worried Commissioner Al Higginbotham. Merrill agreed, saying that such negotiations are akin to a commercial deal, with public discussions potentially “ending up costing us more.”

After Kemp and White continued to press for a change of command, Hagan blew up, repeating that Merrill and Fletcher have appeared at every meeting that he’s had with the Rays, making their motion superfluous.

“Commissioner Kemp and Commissioner White are either not listening to what is being said, they’re intentionally trying to hurt this initiative, or it’s a personal vendetta against me,” he said, adding, “I certainly hope it’s not the latter.”

Kemp and White denied that was their intention, and ultimately Kemp withdrew her amendment.

Most of the commissioners went on the record saying that they would never support public financing for the park, with White adding that meant CRA funding as well.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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