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In fight to woo Rays to Tampa, Hillsborough could soon have a stadium funding source

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. If Hillsborough County surpasses $30 million in tourist tax, the county could have funds to help build the Rays a stadium in Tampa.

Times File Photo

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. If Hillsborough County surpasses $30 million in tourist tax, the county could have funds to help build the Rays a stadium in Tampa.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County is expected to surpass $30 million in taxes collected on hotel room stays by the end of the year, a critical threshold that could be a major development in Tampa’s fight to woo the Tampa Bay Rays.

Santiago Corrada of Visit Tampa Bay told Hillsborough County commissioners that hotels have collected $14.2 million in taxes since the start of the fiscal year in October, $1.8 million more than the same point last year. Corrado also said he expects the county to reach $30 million in room taxes by the end of the year.

That’s key because state law allows counties that generate $30 million in tourism taxes to increase the tax on each night in a hotel from 5 percent to 6 percent. Those tax dollars can be used for two purposes: promoting tourism and financing stadium construction.

“It’s a big deal,” Commissioner Ken Hagan. “It’s huge. I anticipate there will be a money grab once we get there, for lack of a better term. But it’s an appropriate source to consider for a public-private partnership (to build a baseball stadium) and it will help us to get there.”

If reached this year — and Corrada said he’s “very, very confident” the county will hit the mark — it would be a year ahead of schedule. Visit Tampa Bay’s goal was to surpass the $30 million threshold by the end of 2017.

Commissioners would still have to vote to raise the tax. Last week the Republican-controlled commission demonstrated its lack of appetite for any tax hikes when it killed off a half-cent sales tax increase to fund much-needed transportation projects.

But a levy that is assessed on tourists who stay in Hillsborough’s hotel room may be more palatable to commissioners than a sales tax paid primarily by residents. And they’ve had no trouble spending room tax money in recent months on sports stadiums. Renovation proposals for Raymond James Stadium and George M. Steinbrenner Field were both funded with the tourist tax.

“I think it will be a healthy conversation,” Santiago said. “We want to make sure in our organization that they have the option to have that conversation.”

Pinellas County, vying to keep the Rays on their side of the bay, raised the room tax to 6 percent last year after hitting the $30 million mark in 2013.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2016 2:36pm]

    

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