Hillsborough County is in an election year, and the result of a key seat could swing the balance for a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark.
In competition with neighboring Pinellas County, Hillsborough County is looking into luring the Rays with one of several sites that have been discussed, including a few in and around downtown Tampa. Both counties face the same issues, which are how to fund and where to place the ballpark. When it comes to the financial end of the project, the District 6 race for the Hillsborough offers some insight into how a ballpark could be funded.
When asked for their opinions, five of six candidates on the District 6 ballot offered their support of a ballpark, it the county’s portion was funded by a tourism tax–essentially a tax imposed on hotels and other services used by tourists. That total includes four Democrats–John Dicks, Pat Kemp, Tom Scott, and Brian Willis–plus one Republican in Tim Schock. However, in most cases, their willingness to support the ballpark comes with some contingencies. More from Tampa Bay Online:
“That way tourism is paying for the stadium instead of the citizens,” said Scott, a former county commissioner and Tampa city council member.
The bed tax, as it’s called, is also restricted by the state for certain uses, like promoting travel to Hillsborough or financing projects like museums, convention centers and, yes, stadiums.
Still, some candidates hold back on fully committing to that option.
Willis, a Tampa lawyer, said he was “open” to it, but cautioned against a bidding war with St. Petersburg. Similarly, Schock, who owns a local consulting company, said he is “willing to explore” the tourism tax. But he added that the state should contribute, too, to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay, much like it does with its spring training retention program.
“The retention of major-league baseball in Central Florida should be a state priority,” Schock said.
But Dicks, former mayor of Plant City, embraced the tourist tax as the most logical solution.
“There’s no question they’re going to have to have private funds coming in,” he said. “But the sixth cent would provide a bunch bonded out.”
Just one District 6 candidate–Republican Jim Norman–is against the use of a hotel tax to fund the ballpark, with his contention being that Tampa is not in a position to support a new Rays’ facility. The campaign season does not ultimately put the Rays any closer to securing a deal in Hillsborough County, but the outcome of this race could give them a sense of how to approach the county.