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Tampa: We could have $100M for new Rays ballpark

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Tampa Bay Rays

Money currently generated by a downtown Tampa TIF district to pay down convention-center bonds could be used in 2015 and beyond for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark, according to city officials.

The tax-increment financing district currently generates some $13.5 million a year, and the Tampa Convention Center bons are slated to be paid off in 2015. That money, which is expected to generate between $80 million and $100 million, could in theory be used on a new Rays ballpark -- provided, of course, the ballpark is built in downtown Tampa.

The potential availability of the money came up during discussions of the Baseball Stadium Finance Caucus formed by the Tampa and St. Petersburg chambers of commerce. As evidenced by the title, the group is charged with establishing a financing plan for new Rays ballpark to replace the economically obsolete Tropicana Dome. A move by the Rays is opposed by St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who says the team should play out their lease.

Of course, $100 million isn't nearly enough to fund a new ballpark, especially the retractable-roof model sought by the Rays ownership. And this is a big could: nothing about using the money is automatic. Still, it might be a good start. At some point Hillsborough County will need to step forward with some sort of funding mechanism, and the issue of the Trop lease will need to be addressed as well. Having $100 million in the bank is a pretty good place to begin these discussions.

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