St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg will meet next Friday to discuss the stalled search for a new stadium site. The two have not met since about the same time last year, and at first blush, the stalemate appears unchanged: The Rays want free reign to look at all possible locations, while the city of St. Petersburg staunchly defends an iron-clad contract keeping Major League play inside Tropicana Field.
Neither side has wavered for more than three years.
However, the dynamics have changed in recent months, in large part because of information provided by outside parties. In September, a Pinellas developer presented full-blown plans for a ballpark in Carillon, a large mixed-use area on the northern-most end of St. Petersburg and the western end of the Howard Frankland Bridge.
The plan provided a documented price tag, in 2012 dollars, calculated by stadium builders with proven track records. Assuming Bay area fans want air conditioning, a stadium with a fixed roof would cost about $525 million; a retractable roof would drive the price up to about $575 million.
Where to raise that kind of cash was the subject of a study initiated by the Chambers of Commerce in both Tampa and St. Petersburg. A task force spent more than a year examining revenue sources on both sides of Tampa Bay, and concluded the revenue streams required to pay off construction bonds could be assembled in either Hillsborough or Pinellas County. However, there would be political challenges in either county, primarily because of "opportunity costs." Even with new revenue sources, such as a 5 percent tax on rental cars, stadium financing would tap into voter-approved sales taxes for capital improvements. In other words, some tax dollars would be shifted away from other big ticket items, such as roads and bridges.
The Chambers' study also revealed some big assumptions. In any scenario, the public investment would require at least $150 million from the Rays. The task force said even the team would need new revenue streams to borrow that kind of money.
Within the past month, Rays officials have publicly explained the need for a new stadium in a different location to both the Hillsborough and Pinellas County commissions. Both expressed a desire to untangle the stadium impasse. Both acknowledged half-billion-dollar stadium projects require years to plan, finance and construct, so time is running short. Both also formally recognized the city of St. Petersburg's exclusive contract with the Rays.
So when Sternberg and Foster meet next week, they will both know it is up to them to break the stalemate, as soon as possible, because finding a new site is just the start of a long, expensive and politically challenging process.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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