Report outlines financing for a new Rays stadium - FOX 13 News

Report outlines financing for a new Rays stadium

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

A new report delivers a mix of messages about financing for a new Rays stadium.

First the good news. Either Hillsborough or Pinellas counties "...have the capacity to build a stadium. That's the message. We can get it done."

The more sobering reality: "There are opportunity costs that both communities will have to make decisions on and there are political hurdles to get through."

And finally, the warning: "You need to start working on it now because there are a lot of details that need to be figured out."

Tampa business leader Chuck Sykes made all of those statements during an hour long briefing on how the Tampa Bay area might afford a new baseball stadium for the Rays.

A "caucus" formed by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce spent well over a year studying the available revenue streams in both counties, as well as the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Sykes explained the starting point as "we're not really ready to talk about the location. Let's talk about how you're going to pay for it. That really is the big topic."

Other starting points: Any new stadium will probably cost $500 million in round numbers, and the Rays should contribute $150 million of that. The study did identify some ways the team could raise its portion, primarily through surcharges on ticket sales, parking and concessions.

"As you can tell from all of these sources this is very dependent on people showing up for the game" Sykes admitted. "So you can see naturally where there's going to be a lot of concern about where this stadium is and whether or not people are going to come."

That equation leaves $350 million needed from other sources, most likely local taxes. Pinellas has a head start, since it has revenue streams already paying for Tropicana Field.

However, the majority of existing debt will be paid off in 2015 and 2016, and Sykes' caucus sees a problem.

"When that debt gets paid off, it's not going to sit there" Sykes predicted. "It's going to be claimed and it's going to be used, so if we miss this window past 2016...we just believe we're going to be in a really difficult spot."

Hillsborough's existing revenue streams are already committed to existing sports facilities, but it has other sources for money, including a proposed five percent tax on rental cars at Tampa International Airport.

However, both counties would still come up short, unless they tap into voter-approved sales taxes now dedicated to capital improvements, such as the Penny for Pinellas and Hillsborough's Community Investment Tax.

That would create some community competition between a stadium and transportation, recreation and other projects.

"Do we or do we not want to put the money to build a new stadium, would we rather use it for something else -- and we can't answer that," Sykes said.

The caucus chairman also acknowledged the long-standing stalemate between the city of St. Petersburg and Rays principal owner Stuart Sternburg. Sternburg wants permission to look at stadium locations in both counties. The city is defending a lease that commits the Rays to the Trop until 2027.

"I think they need to get into a room just to talk," Sykes suggested. "We are going to do our part to help those parties come together and to chat but it's a complicated political issue."

He also said he hopes the chambers' work promotes more discussion.

"What I think is a problem is when there's nothing written about it, no one's talking about it, it's not top of mind, that I think becomes a problem because we're wasting time. And I don't think time is on our side," he said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster declined to comment on the study, saying he needed more time to digest the information. Rays president Matt Silverman issued a statement applauding the effort.

"Regional cooperation like this is sorely needed as we all move forward and work together to secure the future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay," Silverman wrote.

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