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Key to Rays stadium? Location, location, location. (Also money, money money.)(w/video)

By John Romano
A look at the area just north of the Selmon Expressway by the Ybor Channel Tuesday afternoon in Tampa (10/24/17). Hillsborough is close to naming its site for a proposed ballpark and we're hearing that it will be in the area near the Ybor Channel on the north side of the Selmon. [Dirk Shadd | Times]

Well, that was a stinker of a bombshell.

The formal announcement of Hillsborough Countyís proposed site for a Rays baseball stadium in Ybor City seemed a few octaves shy of harmonious on Tuesday.

Where were the Rays?

Where was Tampaís mayor?

Where were the Cracker Jack and Ybor City cigars?

And, if you want to be a real stickler, where was the $700†million?

All good questions, and no good answers.

Iím not trying to knock on Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan, who helped put the land package together and announced it Tuesday without including anyone else. Hagan has done much of the heavy lifting when it comes to the Ybor site and justifiably deserves credit.

But this saga is a long way from being over, and itís going to take a lot more cooperation than what we saw here. The Rays and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn were both aware the land package was essentially done, but neither knew the announcement was coming Tuesday.

And neither seemed particularly enthusiastic about the timing.

"If this deal gets done, itís going to take all parties holding hands and moving together," Buckhorn told me Wednesday. "That means no surprises, no double crosses, no showboating."

Some suspect the timing might have had something to do with the upcoming mayoral election in St. Petersburg. By promoting the Ybor site two weeks before the election, Hagan has opened the door for fellow Republican Rick Baker to accuse Rick Kriseman of allowing the Rays to slip away from St. Pete.

But, the reality is, thatís still a long, long way from happening.

Everyone knew it was going to be difficult to find desirable, and available, land in Hillsborough. And everyone knew it was going to be even more difficult to find available money to build on that land.

And thatís where we are today.

The Rays will probably wait a couple of weeks until the World Series and the mayoral election are over and then confirm that, yes, the Ybor site is at the top of their wish list.

But they will not, and realistically should not, fully commit to the site until a finan≠cing plan is put together. If they embrace Ybor with both arms, and then discover there is no political will to help fund the stadium, theyíd have to slink back to St. Pete with hats in hand.

Itís sort of the difference between going steady and getting engaged.

Now, when it comes to the money, the Rays were once willing to commit about $150†million toward a downtown St. Petersburg stadium, so letís assume they will throw in about $200 million this time.

That means coming up with at least $500 million more in public funds.

That ainít going to come from property taxes, and it ainít going to come from an increased sales tax. The type of referendum that built Raymond James Stadium in the 1990s is not viable today.

So that means being creative with ideas like rental car surcharges or a special tourism development district. Even then, the city and county will probably have to cobble together multiple funding sources.

"In this political climate, there is no way you can go to voters and ask them to pay for a baseball stadium," Buckhorn said. "Iíve got a fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers, and Iím not going to burden them with a deal that doesnít make sense.

"Iím hoping (Hagan) has a secret financing plan to go along with his secret land assemblage plan. Because the Rays deserve our very best effort ó and Iím willing to do my part ó but itís going to be a tough slog."

What happens if the financing plan doesnít come together in the next 15 months, which is how long the Rays have to negotiate with Hillsborough under terms of an escape clause they have at Tropicana Field?

My guess is nothing.

Kriseman has said all along that he believed the Rays would eventually build a new stadium at the Tropicana site because of the available land and potential funding mechanisms.

But Iím not sure the Rays would be willing to invest money in a new stadium at a site that has consistently underperformed for two decades.

So that means they just keep playing at the Trop. And the calendar keeps creeping closer to the end of the stadium use agreement in 2027 when the team is free to move anywhere it likes. Meanwhile, the land surrounding Tropicana goes undeveloped for a decade.

Hard to see anyone winning in that scenario.

Which is why cooperation today is imperative.