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Private Investment Sought for Area Surrounding Rays Ybor City Ballpark

Tampa Bay Rays

In its planning for a proposed Tampa Bay Rays ballpark, Hillsborough County is indicating that it wants private investment in development surrounding the site.

While the Rays have zeroed in on a 14-acre site north of Ybor Channel in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood as their preferred choice for the location of a new ballpark, the team and local officials have some hurdles to clear to make that concept a reality. That includes developing a firm cost estimate and funding model, as the Rays and Hillsborough County are expected to be the heaviest contributors to the new ballpark.

To see some return on its potential financial contribution to the project, Hillsborough County wants to attract private development in the surrounding area. The area surrounding the proposed ballpark site did not make the cut to be considered as an economic opportunity zone, but local officials are indicating that that will not create a major setback in the plan to solicit private investment. Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill recently stressed how important private investment will be to the project. More from The Tampa Bay Times:

He expects that one often touted potential source of stadium funding — a portion of property taxes known as Tax Increment Financing or TIF funds — would only be spent on street, sewer and other infrastructure improvements needed before construction could start.

As much as possible, he said, the county wants to make the lion’s share of the stadium “private investment, private risk.’’

Rays officials declined to comment. In public, principal owner Stu Sternberg has talked in general terms about the team putting in about $150 million, or more if it can cash in on opportunities such as stadium naming rights.

Merrill said the Rays are aware of the approach the county is advancing.

“They realize, as all teams do, that the world of sports financing is changing and everyone is having to adapt,” he said.

Under economic opportunity zone regulations, the area surrounding the proposed ballpark would have been eligible for tax breaks to developers who made investments there. That designation–which the federal government can apply to low-income areas–had been considered by local officials, but Ybor City was left off the recent list that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity submitted to the federal government.

Even without that status, development figures to be a key factor in the process, especially if Hillsborough County wants to see a return on its investment. Last year’s opening of SunTrust Park for the Atlanta Braves supplied one example of that model, with the team investing in an adjacent mixed-use development, the Battery Atlanta. Recent development has either been unfolding or is planned for areas surrounding more established ballparks, including Target Field–home of the Minnesota Twins–and Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies are planning new development.

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