Monday, February 19, 2018
Business

City officials consider spending millions of dollars for Tropicana Field roof repairs

ST. PETERSBURG

The Tampa Bay Rays have made it clear that they don't see a long-term future for the team at Tropicana Field.

Yet that hasn't hampered discussions among city officials who are thinking about asking the county for millions of dollars to repair the dome's aging roof.

"The Rays are going to be in Tropicana for a while. We have to keep it maintained and we have to keep it safe," said Kevin King, chief of staff for Mayor Rick Kriseman.

With so much uncertainty about if, when and where a new Rays stadium might be built, at least one St. Petersburg council member was perplexed by the idea.

"I just don't believe it makes sense to make drastic improvement to that facility with this yet to be resolved," said council member Amy Foster. "If there are safety improvements that's one thing, but other upgrades wouldn't make fiscal sense to me."

None of Kriseman's administrators mentioned the roof repairs at a recent meeting to discuss possible projects the city might try to fund with bed tax money, she said.

Roughly $6 million in bed tax money — a 5 percent tax levied on hotel stays — will become available next year when the stadium's main bonds expire.

Melanie Lenz, vice president of development and business affairs for the Rays, said the team hasn't been privy to any such talks.

"That's definitely not something we've discussed with the city," she said.

City officials say a final decision has not been made, but seeking bed tax money would be one way to pay for the Trop's long-term capital needs.

The Tourist Development Council hasn't set a deadline for bed tax applications, but plenty of suitors have emerged, including the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Dunedin.

How might St. Petersburg compete with a new home for Winter the Dolphin or the North Pinellas city's quest to keep the Toronto Blue Jays in town for spring training?

By making its pitch simple: duty, safety and aesthetics, King said. "It's not an exciting expenditure, but it's a necessary one."

City officials couldn't provide many details on the state of the Trops' aging roof. The latest inspection, completed in December, showed no major problems.

A cost estimate on repairing or replacing the roof isn't ready, but it might not last until the Rays' contract to play there ends in 2027, said Joe Zeoli, managing director of city development administration.

"That's certainly a project that we don't want to forget about; probably we're going to have to look at a roof replacement project," Zeoli said.

Under the agreement between the Rays and the city, roof repair due to normal wear and tear is to be paid for out of a special stadium escrow account, which has about $2 million in it from naming rights revenue and ticket fees.

But major work would require an additional source of funding — hence the bed tax consideration. Under the team's contract with the city, the Rays also could be on the hook for any needed repairs that exceed the escrow balance.

Lenz said the team hasn't thought much about fixing the roof.

The Rays and the city would have time to sketch out a plan. The bed tax money won't become available until October 2015, said D.T. Minich, the CEO of the Pinellas tourism agency Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

To those leery of investing in a stadium most expect to be demolished in the not-too-distant future, King said it's important to focus on the here and now.

And right now the stadium is a symbol, however ambivalent, of the city.

"Tropicana Field is a very visible structure. It's what people see on the interstate, it's what people see coming into our city and it is the shot that you get on TV," King said.

Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.

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