ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays' plan for a $450-million waterfront ballpark hinges on $55-million in new parking revenue generated by a 34,000-seat downtown stadium.
But the success of the plan may rely on the city's willingness to lease as many as 2,500 city parking spaces and fans' willingness to fork over an extra $1 for parking.
Here is how the Rays say it could work:
The city of St. Petersburg owns as many as 4,000 parking spaces downtown that the city does not currently use most nights, the Rays say.
The team wants to purchase 2,000 to 2,500 spaces from the city for 81 games a year. The team would pay that money up front and then sell those spaces to season ticket holders.
In return, the city would take that revenue and pour it into construction of the new ballpark. The Rays say that scenario can generate $35-million for the new ballpark.
But it's not that simple, the city says.
Currently, parking revenue pays for the parking operations downtown. If money is left over — and the city says that hasn't been the case for five years — it could help pay off some of the city's debt.
Under the Rays' proposal, that money would have to be redirected to pay for the new stadium, city finance director Jeff Spies said. Spies said the Rays' request is possible.
Also, not all of the spaces the Rays may be seeking are available, according to the city. The South Core garage, the garage closest to Al Lang Field, could not be part of any agreement before 2012 because of a previous funding agreement, the city says.
Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt said there are enough spaces in the city's inventory that some will not need to be included. "If you can't use 'X' garage for games, it's not a deal breaker," Kalt said.
While purchasing parking spaces in advance covers $35-million, the team and the city must still identify an additional $20-million to complete the construction of the ballpark.
The Rays say they have several possibilities but are focusing so far on one: a $1 surcharge for fans parking at a baseball game.
Kalt said the city would have to set clear limits on who would pay. He suggested that the city create a zone around the stadium, then apply the surcharge only at certain times before and during a game, and apply it to parking lot operators charging, say, $10 or more.
That way, Kalt said, people parking at BayWalk for a movie or the Pier to have dinner would not be charged.
What's not clear, however, is whether patrons would have to pay $1 more to park or whether operators would simply shave $1 off their profit.
Also unclear is how parking operators would be able to charge different prices based on the reason people are using their garage or parking lot.
The city sent a series of questions to the Rays on Tuesday regarding the team's financing plan, including the parking revenue. The Rays say they will have more answers as soon as today, when the City Council is expected to take up the proposal at an afternoon workshop.
"For us, we think it's a fair way of approaching it," Kalt said of asking baseball patrons to share in the burden. "But if it's politically infeasible, we'll find another way."