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Five things about the proposed new Rays ballpark site

By Richard Danielson
A look at the area just north of the Selmon Expressway near the Ybor Channel Tuesday afternoon in Tampa. Hillsborough County has named its preferred site for a ballpark to lure the Tampa Bay Rays from St. Petersburg to Tampa. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]

TAMPA — With the baseball world’s attention on the start of the World Series, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan made a surprise announcement Tuesday: The county has a preferred location for a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark on the southern edge of Ybor City.

That focuses a lot of attention on the 14-acre site north of Adamo Drive and east of Channelside Drive.

TUESDAY’S ANNOUNCEMENT: Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan says new Rays ballpark should go in Ybor City

Here are five things to help you orient to the place where the Rays may one day play ball:

1. SO WHAT’S THERE NOW?

The short answer is a whole lot of ugly.

Most of the land around Adamo Drive is zoned industrial or commercial for businesses connected to the nearby Port of Tampa. And an elevated section of the Selmon Expressway doesn’t exactly make for great sight-lines, either. If the nosebleed seats are high enough, fans might get views of the ship repair businesses in the Port of Tampa along with the Ybor Channel.

The actual ballpark site includes S & S Craftsman, a woodworking and mill business, and a moving and storage business. Just two blocks east is Skin Tampa, one of about a half-dozen strip clubs on Adamo Drive. Further east are a bunch of warehouses, including one owned by Fabricated Products of Tampa, whose south-facing wall is the canvas for "American Journey," which at 12,600-square-feet is one of the largest murals in Florida.

2. WHO OWNS THE LAND AND HOW MUCH IS IT WORTH?

The potential ballpark site consists of 11 parcels owned by five different companies, including Tampa Electric, a roofing supplies distributor based in New York City and several limited liability companies formed by Darryl Shaw, the CEO of the BluePearl veterinary clinics, as well as Joe Capitano Sr., Jacob "Booky" Buchman, Salvatore Guagliardo and Andy Scaglione.

The parcels have a combined estimated market value of more than $7.9 million, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office. In addition to the parcels’ acreage, the ballpark footprint includes parts of E Second Avenue, E Third Avenue and N Avenue Republica de Cuba. Mayor Bob Buckhorn previously has said the city would be open to vacating streets to help create a ballpark site.

3. WHAT DOES THIS LOCATION OFFER IN TERMS OF FINANCING?

The proposed stadium site is partly inside one of two community redevelopment areas for Ybor City. And of the two, it is the Ybor CRA that generates the least amount of property taxes that can go toward public improvements: just $164,000 in 2016.

Some property tax revenue generated inside CRAs can be used to pay for public infrastructure or improvements intended to foster further growth. (Downtown CRA funds, for example, will reimburse developers for building new roads and putting in larger utility lines at the $3 billion Water Street Tampa redevelopment nearby.)

If built where proposed, the ballpark would be directly across Channelside Drive from a piece of property known as the Gas Worx. Owned by Shaw, the Gas Worx is inside the downtown CRA, which in 2016 generated more than $9 million for such projects. So the ballpark property wouldn’t necessarily benefit from the downtown CRA, but the Gas Worx might, especially if developed with restaurants, bars and retail to serve baseball fans.

4. HOW WOULD THE LAND BE ACQUIRED?

Hagan says Shaw, who has emerged as a major player in Ybor City’s real estate market, is playing a key role in helping to assemble the parcels for the ballpark. There’s a Tampa precedent for having a private investor help secure land for a major sports facility. In the 1990s, when Tampa and Hillsborough officials were working to build a hockey arena for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Harbour Island developer Finn Caspersen — in some ways, the Jeff Vinik of his day — agreed to put up nearly $9 million to acquire the rights to a key piece of property for the arena on the understanding he would get the money back when officials closed the deal.

It worked.

5. AND EVERYBODY IS ON BOARD RIGHT?

Umm .... not exactly. Hagan’s impromptu announcement wasn’t just news to Rays fans. It came as a surprise to other local leaders and seemed to catch the team off guard, too.

Hagan’s commission colleague Victor Crist was livid Wednesday that he learned about the plan through the media. Crist said it was a violation of protocol for Hagan to unveil a location and present it to the Rays without first getting the approval of the entire commission.

Crist’s fear is that this has been branded publicly as Hillsborough County’s plan, when the county commission hasn’t even seen it, let alone vote on it.

"This has had no vetting by the county commission. This has had no vetting of public input," Crist said. "This whole thing has been done in a vacuum behind the scenes, out of the sunshine and that is not how the Board of County Commissioners operates."

Hagan’s other colleagues were less bothered. Commissioners Al Higginbotham, Les Miller and Sandy Murman said they weren’t expecting an announcement Tuesday but nevertheless had no problem with Hagan making public the preferred site.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told reporters that he, too, was caught off guard although he approves the location.

And the Rays themselves responded a few hours later with a lukewarm noncommittal statement that they will evaluate the site along with other options on both sides of Tampa Bay. Major League Baseball teams are reticent to make news during the World Series and the Rays may not have wanted their potential move to be a factor in the hotly contested St. Petersburg mayoral race.