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Rays ballpark talks heating up across Tampa Bay

New Tampa Bay Rays ballpark talks with both Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg appear to be intensifying, with both sides apparently buying into the concepts floated by the MLB team.

The Rays, we’re told, have the same basic economic model in mind no matter where the ballpark is located: a publicly financed ballpark surrounded by development overseen by the team and outside investors. This is not a new or extreme plan: it’s the model pioneered by Atlanta with Truist Park and the Battery, and now one discussed every time a new ballpark is discussed (Oakland, Kansas City). How to pay for the new ballpark seems to be the centerpiece of talks.

While Tampa and Hillsborough County have been exceedingly discreet about Rays ballpark talks while meeting Florida’s sunshine laws — no paper trail — we’re seeing some officials breaking the silence. Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has been active in current and past Rays ballpark talks, broke his silence and outlined what the public could see if the team followed through with plans for a new Ybor City ballpark:

“Taxpayers would not be responsible for interest or debt cost or operational costs,” said chief Hillsborough County negotiator Ken Hagan.

He won’t disclose numbers yet, but Hagan says the working idea is to create a special economic district which would include a stadium, housing, parks, a baseball museum and even a home base for law enforcement….

“We’ve got a few T’s that need to be crossed, and I’s need to be dotted,” shared Hagan. “But we are perilously close to being in a position where we will be able to present something formally and begin negotiations.”

Hagen expects Hillsborough County to present the Rays with a specific ballpark plan in coming weeks.

Also expected to make a specific ballpark plan to the Rays and developer Hines — if officials have not done so already — is St. Petersburg officials, who haven’t been quite as discreet as their Hillsborough County counterparts. Again, there’s no paper trail documenting the discussions, but the three parties are discussing an extreme makeover of the current Tropicana Field site that would include retail, restaurants/bars, residential and office space:

The draft memorandum of understanding dated March 15 by the Hines/Rays team excludes 17.3 acres for the ballpark. Negotiations about the ballpark itself are happening simultaneously but separate from the redevelopment of the rest of the downtown land parcel. The ballpark will remain public property while the rest of the land is expected to be sold.

The preliminary plan includes 4,869 market-rate residences, 731 affordable homes for families of four making $69,500 or less and 128 workforce units for families of four earning $104,280 or less. The draft plan also includes 600 senior living residences.

It also contemplates 700 hotel rooms, 1.4 million square feet of of office, 320,000 square feet of retail and 50,000 square feet of entertainment space. It would further include 14,000 structured parking stalls, 14 acres of dedicated open space and 32 acres of public community and civic/cultural uses.

Both proposals would also rely on public funding featuring county hotel/motel taxes and potentially other tourist taxes.

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