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State Could Affect Funding for Rays Ballpark

Tampa Bay Rays

Reluctance among state lawmakers to publicly fund stadium projects could have an effect on the Tampa Bay Rays, who are in the midst of their search for a new ballpark. 

When it comes to the Rays’ quest to replace Tropicana Field, there are still many unanswered questions. The team has been exploring both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a ballpark site, but has yet to announce its preference. There are also some questions as to how much the ballpark will cost, and how it will ultimately be funded.

What has been apparent at the state level, however, is backlash toward the funding of major sports facilities. Legislators rejected a $350 million request in 2013 from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to fund improvements to his team’s facility, though Ross ultimately completed the project on his own, and renovations to what is now known as Hard Rock Stadium continue. Furthermore, a state grant system in which proposals are ranked by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity was put into place in 2014, but lawmakers have yet to fund a request submitted through the program.

Going forward, an issue to watch could be whether the state legislature looks to curb local government spending on major sports facilities. There are some state lawmakers who favor leaving an option for local public funds, but are reluctant to commit money at the state level, but other legislators have signaled their willingness to pursue a ban of local tourist development taxes for projects at the county level. That could have an effect on the Rays, as The Tampa Bay Times explains:

In an interview before the session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran floated the idea of preventing counties from financing stadiums with tourist development taxes collected on hotel bills and several Republicans, like Lee and Brandes, have since said they would support it.

Tourist development taxes, collected from hotel stays, are critical to how officials in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties plan to finance a Rays ballpark. Without local contribution, teams have said they may have to look outside of Florida.

House Republicans have found other ways to go after these deals. [Rep. Bryan] Avila’s bill, prohibiting professional teams from building stadiums on public lands, passed the House only to fail later in the Senate.

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican expected to become the next Senate President, said he opposes state money for stadiums but wouldn’t put the same restrictions on localities. Young, a rising star who represents a purple Tampa district, felt the same.

But the makeup of the Senate, traditionally viewed as the more moderate chamber, could shift quickly as House Republicans elected during the Tea Party wave move to upper chamber to replace Senators pushed out of office by term limits.

In regards to the Rays’ situation, timing could come into play. Sternberg said in March that the search for a ballpark site could take until the end of the year, and that decision will have a hand in how the project is funded on a local level and which county and/or municipality are involved. Regardless, there is clearly a feeling of backlash toward funding major sports facilities among state lawmakers, and it will remain to be seen if that leads to a pursuit of a plan to prohibit local spending as well.

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