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Hillsborough Seeks MLB Support in Rays Ballpark Proposal

Tampa Bay Rays Ybor City ballpark rendering 1

As it tries to sell the Tampa Bay Rays on the proposal, Hillsborough County is asking Major League Baseball to support its funding framework for a new ballpark. 

In order to finance a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City, Hillsborough County is proposing a model that would rely heavily on private investment. The county would contribute $475 million toward the total $892-million project cost, counting in part on increased property taxes from new private development in two of Tampa’s Community Redevelopment Areas to cover its share. The Rays have yet to respond to the proposal, and the county is pushing for an answer. As was revealed this week, Hillsborough wants the Rays to okay its funding framework by the start of 2019 before completing a more formal term sheet by the end of spring training.

To help drive support for the proposal, the county recently sent a letter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. While it provides details on the plans, the letter also comes as Hillsborough officials work to get the Rays in agreement on a formal term sheet before spring training concludes. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“The baseball commissioner has influence on how a deal such as this gets done and chooses whether or not to become involved,” [Hillsborough County Administrator Mike] Merrrill said. “As I understand it, the baseball commissioner has to approve deals anyway.”

The Rays have not responded to the county’s proposal. The team has also not responded to requests for comment from the Tampa Bay Times.

The letter was drafted by Irwin Raij, an attorney working on behalf of the Tampa Sports Authority who specializes in stadium deals. He wrote that the proposal “represents what leadership believes the community could support.”

Although the ballpark would be publicly owned, the letter says the county expects the Rays to be responsible for overseeing constructions. The team would also pay $3 million in annual rent payments that would be set aside to pay for stadium maintenance and future upgrades. Those payments would also increase over time.

The proposed ballpark site and surrounding area have been designated as a federal economic opportunity zone, so officials hope that prompts private investment in new development. Such development would be key to paying down debt service used for the ballpark.

Along with Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa would play a major role in the planning process for a Ybor City ballpark. It would oversee 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.

A new Ybor City ballpark would replace Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, and the Rays are facing a deadline of their own there. An agreement approved by St. Petersburg officials in January 2016 gave the Rays three years to explore the region for a new ballpark, but it is approaching its December 31 expiration.

Rendering courtesy Tampa Bay Rays.

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