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Hillsborough County Waiting for Rays in Ballpark Discussions

Tampa Bay Rays Ybor City ballpark rendering 8

When it comes to negotiating a funding plan for a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City, a Hillsborough County official says that feedback is needed from the Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays released their proposal for a new Ybor City ballpark this summer, calling for the fixed translucent roof facility to be constructed as part of an $892 million project that would yield a replacement for their current home, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. It has been expected that the project will be financed through a public-private partnership, but some major factors remain unknown, including the exact cost shares of the Rays and local government.

Questions about the funding have persisted in recent months, especially as the Rays approach the December 31 expiration of a previous agreement with St. Petersburg that allows them to explore the Tampa Bay region for a new ballpark site. On Friday, Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill sent a memo to county commissioners that contained an overview of a possible agreement with the Rays. Merrill has since indicated that the county is waiting for feedback from the Rays, which would give officials a better sense of what the team views as a workable plan. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“We’re kind of at that point,” Merrill said. “Our mission was to build a framework for a deal and this is the best we could come up with. We really need to hear from the Rays.”

The Rays weren’t showing their cards Monday, declining to comment on Merrill’s memo. The administrator said no team official has contacted him.

When 2019 dawns, the Rays agreement with St. Petersburg that allowed the team to spend three years looking for Hillsborough stadium sites expires. Merrill said he thought the first step before that agreement ends would be for the Rays to agree to the terms outlined in his memo.

“The first step is for the Rays to tell us that they’re willing to work within the framework outlined … as a basis for negotiating,” Merrill said.

Until a firm funding model emerges, it will be hard to know what the parties involved will expect from a ballpark deal, but it seems likely that corporate support will be a major factor. Support from area businesses has been seen as vital to the plan, as it is not only a reason that the Rays are targeting Tampa–which has a stronger corporate base and larger population than St. Petersburg–but also because local officials will likely rely on increased tax revenue from new development in the surrounding area to help pay off the ballpark. The ballpark is proposed for a 14-acre site north of Ybor Channel.

Rendering courtesy Tampa Bay Rays.

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