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Pinellas to require new Rays to be in county if tourism taxes provide funding

CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission will require that a new baseball stadium for the Rays be built in the county if tourism tax money is set aside to fund it.

Previously, a proposed extension of part of the tax, which is applied to hotel and motel stays, would not have required that the ballpark site be in Pinellas.

While no one has agreed to build a stadium, the Tampa Bay Rays seek one, and they're interested in looking in Hillsborough County. After the St. Petersburg Times story Tuesday pointed out the quirk, county attorneys drafted a revised ordinance requiring that the money stay in Pinellas.

"I think that ought to be there," said Commissioner Calvin Harris, who supports the extension. "That would eliminate a lot of the concern."

Chief Assistant County Attorney Dennis Long and commission Chairwoman Karen Seel, who leads the Tourist Development Council, said the first measure merely mirrored state law.

But a public hearing and final vote on extending the tax will be delayed two weeks to Nov. 30, and commissioners agreed Tuesday to have a workshop to discuss concerns by Nov. 16.

"I'm not comfortable, and I need to get there," said Commissioner Susan Latvala, who questioned whether money for tourism would be unfairly drained. "Doesn't mean I won't."

The county's tax of 5 cents per dollar spent on hotel stays pays for tourism marketing, beach renourishment and sports facilities — providing about $25 million a year. The "fourth cent" is paying part of the debt on Tropicana Field and expires in 2015.

With the Salvador Dali Museum this year seeking $2.5 million for a construction shortfall, the county's Tourist Development Council agreed to a proposal extending the fourth cent for stadium construction. It also agreed to allow tourist tax money to go to building projects at private museums and other sites, such as youth sports fields.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas to require new Rays to be in county if tourism taxes provide funding 10/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 11:51pm]

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