Rays need 'a lot of skin in the game' to get support for a Tampa stadium, Hillsborough commissioner says
TAMPA — If and when the Tampa Bay Rays ask Hillsborough County for money to help build a new baseball stadium in Tampa, they’re going to have a hard time convincing at least one commissioner.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, the newest commissioner who represents suburban and rural east Hillsborough, said stadium talk was premature at this point.
Nevertheless, having the county chip in to build a new stadium will be a tough sell for him.
“I’d love to have the Rays here, but the Rays would have to have a lot of skin in the game,” White said.
White recently sat down for an extended interview with the Tampa Bay Times to discuss his ideas for fixing the county’s transportation woes. But he fielded a question about baseball as well.
While it may seem early to talk about financing a stadium for a team that hasn’t even said it will move, White’s comment was actually timely.
Just days earlier, Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s tourism agency, told commissioners that Hillsborough is likely to surpass $30 million in tourism tax collections by the end of the year. Passing that threshold would allow the county to increase the tourism tax from 5 cents on every dollar spent to 6 cents.
Those taxes, levied on stays at hotel, RV parks and campgrounds, must be used on tourism marketing or on attractions and tourism facilities like aquariums, convention centers and, yes, stadiums. Pinellas County voted last year to raise the tax after eclipsing the $30 million mark in 2013.
White voted against using $29 million in tourism tax dollars to put help renovate Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But he joined the rest of the county commissioners to allocate $13.3 million in bed taxes to upgrade the New York Yankees’ spring training facility, George M. Steinbrenner Field. That deal extended the lease with the Yankees to 2046.
“I realize we have other teams on this side of the bay that have gotten assistance from the county, from taxpayers. It happens all over the nation,” White said. “I’m certainly willing to listen to perhaps negotiate if we ever get to the point of talking about getting the Rays here.”