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Tampa mayor: Rays ballpark financial plan in works

Tampa Bay RaysAfter a meeting with team owner Stuart Sternberg, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says she’s working with other local authorities to create a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark financial plan.

Hillsborough County and the Tampa Sports Authority could be tapped to finance a new 27,000-capacity ballpark, which might also be used to host spring-training games as well as half of the regular season, with the team playing the other half at a new Montreal ballpark. At 27,000, we’re talking about a relatively financially modest facility without the need to invest in a retractable roof and climate control, more along the lines of Omaha’s 24,000-capacity TD Ameritrade Park (though with considerably more upscale seating and social spaces, we’re guessing), which cost $131 million in 2011. A facility that size certainly represents a rethinking about the sweet spot for ballpark design as the sport rapidly evolves in coming years.

Castor says everything but general tax revenues is on the table, per the Tampa Bay Times:

“Nothing is off the table with the exception of the citizen’s footing the bill for the stadium,” she said. “Everything is still possible as a funding mechanism. As I said, I envision more than one proposal presented to the Rays.”

Castor said she’s received very little “pushback” from Tampa residents about the split season concept. The “vast majority” of Tampa residents who have bent her ear want the team to stay in the region, she said.

She dismissed some sports economists who have questioned whether a new baseball stadium would spark economic development in the city.

“I believe there is an impact. Tell me that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t had an impact, financial impact, positive financial impact in the Tampa Bay area,” Castor said. “I think it would help immensely.”

Indeed. Spend any time in Tampa–especially if you’ve not visited downtown in recent years–and you’ll be impressed by the level of development in the Amalie Arena area, as Lightning owner Jeff Vinik leveraged his investment in the team and the arena into a much larger investment in the area, nicknamed Vinikville.

There’s already been some planning for a new Ybor City ballpark: the city has already requested $43 million in state funding for two separate projects, each designed to improve bicycle, scooter and pedestrian access between the 18-acre former Kforce site and two popular city destinations: Armature Works and the Channel District. The Armature Works area has emerged as a popular nightspot, including a food hall and the Ulele restaurant, while the Channel District features Amalie Arena and a host of attractions, as well as new development that includes high-end housing and office space.

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