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Rays release financing details for new stadium

ST. PETERSBURG — Parking revenues and the extension of city and county taxes would play vital roles in a proposed $450-million waterfront ballpark, the Tampa Bay Rays said Thursday.

Team officials say their financial plan, laid out to City Council members during an afternoon meeting, would rely more on private resources than public.

Mayor Rick Baker called the plan "a good start.''

It includes:

• $150-million up front from the team.

• $100-million from extending a 1 percent tax on Pinellas County hotel stays for an additional 25 to 30 years. That tax is now paying for Tropicana Field.

• $75-million from extending the city's contribution to Tropicana Field for another 25 to 30 years.

• $70-million from the developer buying Tropicana Field.

• And $55-million in guaranteed parking revenue associated with the 34,000-seat ballpark.

As part of any agreement, the Rays said they would pay cost overruns if they oversee construction of the stadium.

The Rays also said the public's contribution — $175-million — would be dwarfed by more than $303-million in new taxes generated by redeveloping Tropicana Field.

"There's new revenue to the local tax base on Day One," said Rays president Matt Silverman. "The reason to do this plan is not about baseball. It's really about the opportunity to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenues on Tropicana Field because it can be redeveloped."

Filling in the gap

The Rays have been clear since November that a new ballpark would cost $450-million and that the team would contribute $150-million.

On Thursday, team officials presented a way to fill in that $300-million gap.

Primarily, Rays officials say they are asking the city and county to extend their payments at Tropicana Field for an additional 25 to 30 years to build a new ballpark at Al Lang.

Here's how it would work, the Rays say:

First, developers bidding to buy Tropicana Field must guarantee to pay off the debt remaining at the stadium, which by next year will be about $70-million.

Next, the city and county must agree to shift the money — about $11-million annually — that local governments are paying on the dome to help build the new ballpark.

And last, the governments must agree to extend those payments, which would have expired in 2016, an additional 25 to 30 years.

The annual contribution by the city and county would begin to rise in 2017, Rays officials also say. By 2025, the city and county would be contributing $14.5-million a year to cover new debt on the new ballpark.

But in that same year, 2025, Rays officials project, local governments would receive $22.5-million in new tax revenues.

In today's dollars, the Rays say the Tropicana redevelopment would generate $73-million in new school revenues and more than $200-million in new property and sales tax revenues. The city has not conducted its own analysis.

The city contribution would come from part of its share of excise tax revenues, Rays officials say. The county would be asked to contribute 1 percent of a hotel bed tax.

A coalition of elected officials from Pinellas beaches this month voiced opposition to the funding plan, saying the money should be used to aid beach tourism.

New wrinkles

The hardest part of the Rays' financing plan to comprehend is the final $55-million, which would come from parking revenues.

Council member Jeff Danner suggested a city work session on that piece alone.

Although the Rays collect parking revenues now at Tropicana Field, they would have almost no parking at a downtown ballpark.

Instead, the Rays propose pre-purchasing as many as 2,500 city spaces downtown that the team says are not currently used on game nights. The advance money would cover up to $35-million of construction costs.

For the final $20-million, the team says it has a number of options, including a possible $1 parking surcharge for game-day crowds.

"We have several ways," Silverman said. "What we need to do is begin a discussion with the city to see how things might play out."

That discussion now will begin in earnest. Rays officials said they also plan to meet with county commissioners, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

Because local taxes are involved, the Rays' proposal must be approved by the St. Petersburg City Council and the Pinellas County Commission.

The plan also must pass a November referendum in St. Petersburg because the Rays want to build a new stadium on the city's waterfront.

City Council members on June 5 are expected to make the first of three votes required to schedule that referendum.

A public hearing on the project also is scheduled Thursday at City Hall.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

Where does the proposed $450-million come from?

$150-million: From the Tampa Bay Rays.

$70-million: Developers who buy Tropicana Field.

$55-million: Parking revenue from new stadium.

$100-million: Extension of 1 percent tax on Pinellas County hotel stays for another 25 to 30 years.

$75-million: Extension of St. Petersburg's contribution to Tropicana Field for another 25 to 30 years.

Rays release financing details for new stadium 05/15/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2008 1:40pm]
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