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Hillsborough Sets Spring Deadline for Rays Ballpark Term Sheet

Tampa Bay Rays Ybor City ballpark rendering 1

The Tampa Bay Rays face a deadline in their new ballpark talks, as a Hillsborough County official is calling for them to agree to a term sheet by next spring.

The Rays released their proposal for a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City 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 the Rays and local government have not agreed to the parameters of a potential agreement.

At a Hillsborough County commissioners meeting on Wednesday, county administrator Mike Merrill stressed that there is urgency to the discussions. The county is pitching a funding model that relies heavily on private financing, with public money going largely toward infrastructure upgrades and the ballpark exempt from property taxes, but the Rays have not weighed in on that plan. Merrill said during the meeting that the Rays and the county will need to strike a term sheet by the end of 2019 spring training, or otherwise the deal could collapse all together. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“If we can’t come up with term sheet by March of next year we’re basically done anyway,” Merrill told commissioners during Wednesday’s meeting.

Merrill said the county’s pitch to the Rays promises a stadium financing deal largely made up of private dollars — a potentially ground-breaking proposal for MLB stadiums that are typically built with public dollars. But if the Rays don’t agree to the county’s framework by Jan. 1, and if a binding agreement isn’t struck by the end of the 2019 spring training season, then Merrill said it won’t happen….

The county’s proposal outlines two possible sources of private funding: Investors could put their cash into a federally-designated Opportunity Zone and landowners in and around the site could agree to tax themselves as part of a Community Development District.

The only significant public money would come from two of Tampa’s Community Redevelopment Areas that would pay for infrastructure upgrades such as utility and road improvements.

Keep in mind that this is separate from the team’s December 31 deadline with St. Petersburg, which is part of a 2016 agreement that gave the Rays three years to explore the region for a new ballpark. There are still many unknowns as it relates to that deadline, but Hillsborough County is essentially calling on the Rays to okay the county’s funding framework by the start of 2019 before completing a more formal term sheet by the end of spring training.

Both Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa would play major roles in the planning process for a Ybor City ballpark. The county would be responsible for granting the property-tax exemption, with the city overseeing areas such as zoning regulations and the allocation of CRA funds. The city is approaching a shakeup in leadership, however, as current mayor Bob Buckhorn is ineligible to seek a third term next spring and will leave office on May 1.

Rendering courtesy Tampa Bay Rays.

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