Hagan winking at the Tampa Bay Rays again
It was just another sleepy budget workshop Thursday.
Hillsborough County commissioners, still facing depressed tax revenue, were discussing ways to use public-private partnerships to build roads, transit, parking garages and other things that government usually does. The idea is to let a private company pay for all or part of the construction of, say, a road, in exchange for being able to collect tolls from it or gain expanded rights to develop alongside it.
That's when Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said that might be the approach to take to build a professional baseball stadium.
"This may be a little premature, but there's a distinct possibility our community may consider building a baseball stadium in the relatively near future," Hagan told a consultant the county has hired to advise them about government partnerships with the private sector. "
He went on to say that Hillsborough County isn't going to build it and taxpayer won't be asked to pay for it. In all likelihood, it may take several sources of money to pay for a stadium, and that could include private interests beyond the team, he said.
The county attorney has advised commissioners that they should not be too specific in talking about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Hagan wasn't. The team has an agreement to stay at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg until 2027, but has been agitating to look at other locations sooner do to poor attendance.
Hagan has made no secret of his desire to ensure the Rays stay in the region, something politicians on this side of the bay agree upon generally.
"If we lose that baseball team, it would be a tremendous black eye to the region," said Commissioner Mark Sharpe. However, he expressed his desire to see the discussion focused on looking at creative ways to build transit and parking, things that will make something like a baseball stadium in downtown Tampa more attractive and easier to get to.
Hagan didn't get any more specific after the meeting about what he envisions. But it's likely any proposal would involve a range of funding sources.
Special taxing districts in part of downtown, including the Channel District, are slated to expire in upcoming years. They capture a portion of taxes from property value increases to ensure they are spent in the area from which they were collected. There likely will be conversations about renewing them and recasting them in ways that would better accommodate a sports arena.
There has been considerable speculation about what the ownership of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team plans to do with land it has been acquiring near the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the team plays. Might the Lightning be interested in chipping in toward baseball stadium construction if they somehow benefitted from the traffic it would bring to the area? Any discussion assumes the Rays would also pick up a good part of the costs in exchange for a favorable cut of future revenue from the stadium.
The Times Forum itself is a form of public-private partnership. The original ownership group picked up much of the cost to build it, with things such as ticket surcharges and hotel taxes covering debt payments on parts of the rest.