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Regional ballpark authority pitched for Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay RaysA regional ballpark authority with the ability to collect taxes could be the key in the Tampa Bay Rays landing a new ballpark — but it’s far from clear whether all cities in the area would want to participate.

There’s one given when it comes to public funding of large projects: by increasing the number of folks impacted you actually diminish the impact of something like a sales tax, because you can get away with a rather small tax. Folks in Minnesota’s Hennepin County probably don’t even realize they’re contributing to a Minnesota Twins ballpark every time they buy a Whopper at a local Burger King because the increased sales tax — 0.15 percent — is a minimal part of the transaction and doesn’t show up on the receipt as a separate payment.

This is why a regional sports authority with the power to issue a sales tax could be the ticket for a new Rays ballpark — an idea being discussed right now by a stadium committee formed by the local chambers of commerce. There’s already the Tampa Sports Authority, responsible for managing operations and debt on Raymond James Stadium and to a lesser extent at the St. Pete Times Forum, but it lacks taxation powers and is limited to Tampa proper.

Small additions to the sales tax can mean big revenues. For instance, in Denver, a one-tenth of a penny sales tax in the greater Denver area generates some $38 million a year, which used to pay down debt on NFL and MLB facilities. Something similar in Tampa Bay could easily be used to pay down a $500-million Rays ballpark.

Now, whether there’s the political will to do so is a question mark. Cities outside of Tampa or St. Pete proper may not be too eager to pay for a ballpark sure to be located outside their city limits, even though you can argue the Rays are a regional attraction. And given the anti-tax sentiment in the Florida Legislature these days, having it establish a ballpark authority with taxation powers may be a surprisingly difficult sell. Still, the fact that such a common-sense solution is eminating from the local business community has to be good new for the Rays ownership.

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