Yes, Hillsborough & Tampa are still trying to build a new Rays stadium

Rays stadium
Many in Tampa believe there are still enough dollars to make a stadium work there someday.

The Tampa Bay Rays may have struck out in getting Hillsborough County to help them build and finance a new stadium in Ybor City, but it hasn’t stopped the public money from flowing to a Tampa/Hillsborough stadium consultant.

The Tampa Sports Authority, funded by the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County, continues to pay for consultant Irwin Raij, an attorney originally hired by the county in 2014 for his expertise in stadium negotiations.

Hillsborough County spent more than $700,000 for Raij’s consulting services between 2014 and 2018, including $331,436 last year alone. That’s an average of $150,000 per year, until the relationship was transferred over to the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) late in 2018.

TSA directors are considered a friendlier public board to the Rays’ stadium campaign than Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners, even though county dollars help fund the sports authority.

The Rays closed the door on a three-year negotiating window with Tampa and Hillsborough County in December, indicating local governments and businesses did not bring nearly enough money to the table to advance their Ybor City stadium plans.

The team is currently prohibited from speaking to any community other than St. Petersburg about stadium construction or relocation before 2027, but the TSA has continued to pay for Raij’s consulting; $58,431 since the start of 2019.

Many in Tampa believe there are still enough dollars to make a stadium work there someday, and they are holding out hope that the Rays’ lack of 2019 progress with St. Petersburg is a sign they’re still hoping to cross the bay.

A TSA spokesperson did not return multiple requests for comment this week, nor did TSA Chief Operating Officer Eric Hart or Hillsborough’s lead stadium negotiator, County Commissioner Ken Hagan, when contacted Thursday.

Raij is considered one of the nation’s foremost experts on pro stadium matters; not only is he billing more than $100,000 a year from Tampa Bay taxpayers, but WTSP revealed in December that he is also collecting paychecks to consult on Portland’s bid to secure an MLB team, possibly through relocation.

Noah Pransky

Noah Pransky is a multiple award-winning investigative reporter, most recently with the CBS affiliate in Tampa. He’s uncovered major stories such as uncovering backroom deals in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium and other political investigations. Pransky also ran a blog called Shadow of the Stadium, giving readers a deep dive into the details of potential financial deals and other happenings involving the Tampa Bay- area sports business.


5 comments

  • Edward Freeman

    May 16, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    Another great piece of investigative journalism by Pransky. More like this please! None of our local governments, nor the state, should spend a dime to subsidize billionaires. We have far too many pressing needs to waste our tax dollars on nonsense like sports stadiums.

    • Jake Gl

      May 17, 2019 at 1:36 am

      Agreed! I am starting to wonder if a stadium will really benefit this community anyway. Rays are winning big yet it still seems like there’s tons of empty seats at the trop…..unless they are playing the Yankees and then yankee fans fill the place. I am probably the only fan that likes the trop anyway. I don’t play so I don’t care about the quality of the turf and the seating is fine, the AC works great in there and food is cheap! Parking is cheap too. A new stadium would probably make it financially impossible for me to go to many games.

  • jay

    May 17, 2019 at 10:04 am

    When are they going to give up on this. Baseball is dying because no one wants to spend 5 hours on a game that can be extended god knows how long.

  • Layne

    May 17, 2019 at 10:31 am

    So the long con continues. Nevermind all the shady backroom deals and payouts from land investments, full speed ahead on swindling tax money for billionaires.
    Stadiums do nothing to benefit the public, it should be clear by now.

    The Rays can pay St Pete and hit the road. I’m done with games no matter what side of the bridge they are on. After hearing them insult the area and demand hundreds of millions, they’ve lost any goodwill from casual fans and taxpayers alike.

    Excellent reporting, Noah.

  • Dave

    May 23, 2019 at 9:34 am

    I still believe that we can build a new stadium in Tampa and not fleece the people of Florida. Major issue would timeline on payback.

    Local crooks, er I mean Politicians, need to get together and devise a new tax that is levied on everything that tourist do.

    Having Yankee and Red Sox fans help us a new stadium is exciting.

    All it takes is some creative taxing laws that could be levied that barely hit a Florida resident.

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