Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tourist tax dollars are big factor in the future of the Rays in Tampa Bay

Baseball fans head into Tropicana Field before the first home game of the 2013 baseball season for the Tampa Bay Rays.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Baseball fans head into Tropicana Field before the first home game of the 2013 baseball season for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The conversation has been going on for quite some time.

It has included grand ideas and dirt bikes. It has touched on eroding beaches and an emerging aquarium. The discussion over where best to spend an upcoming influx of tourist tax dollars has been all over the Pinellas map.

And somewhere along the way, this question occurred to County Commissioner Charlie Justice:

Is Pinellas County preparing to get out of the business of Major League Baseball?

"It's not like an official decision has been made," Justice said Wednesday. "It just seems like the thought of spending any of that money on a stadium has been pushed to the background. No one has said that; it's more an observation I've made."

And so baseball's love triangle continues in Tampa Bay.

Except the triangle is more of a polygon.

And we've never been sure who loves whom.

Are the Tampa Bay Rays hoping to hook up with Tampa? Does Lightning owner Jeff Vinik love the idea of a baseball stadium on or near his parcels of land in downtown Tampa? Will St. Petersburg fight to keep the Rays? Does Pinellas County have room in its heart — or wallet — for another round of stadium payments?

There are 14 seasons remaining on the use agreement at Tropicana Field, but the clock on stadium decisions has always run a little faster than many have realized.

And this is one of the reasons why.

Pinellas County's payment obligations at Tropicana Field will end in a couple of years, and a handful of groups are lining up to claim the tourism dollars that will suddenly be available. There's a similar situation in Hillsborough, where Tampa Convention Center debts will soon be paid off, and various eyeballs are beginning to focus on that windfall.

So is it fair to say a decision to rededicate the tourism money elsewhere in Pinellas will be the first sign that the Rays will eventually head across the Howard Frankland?

"It's great news that the bonds that helped build Tropicana Field are nearly paid off," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "Decisions about the tourism tax aren't ours to make, but clearly whatever the commissioners decide will have a large impact, for better or worse, on the future of baseball in Pinellas County."

Justice points out that the county could take on some smaller projects for a few years and still get back in the stadium funding business once construction begins down the road.

And St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says Pinellas commissioners probably put stadium questions on the back burner because former Mayor Bill Foster was so emphatic about enforcing the stadium use agreement.

"As far as that revenue stream, if the County Commission and the TDC (Tourist Development Council) are of the opinion there is still an opportunity the Rays will stay here, I'm sure they'll reconsider how they use that money," Kriseman said.

"I don't want to let this thing sit out there and fester much longer. That's not a good idea," he said. "We're at a point where I'm ready to look at getting together with the Rays and talking about where we go from here."

In other words, it's the same old stalemate.

The Rays won't talk about Pinellas until they are allowed to look in Hillsborough. And St. Pete wants to protect the integrity of its use agreement.

It has been a circular argument that has led nowhere. Meanwhile, Vinik can't afford to wait. Neither can the folks who control Tampa's downtown tax district funds. Nor the commissioners with their tax dollars in Pinellas.

One of these days, time will no longer be on our side.

Tourist tax dollars are big factor in the future of the Rays in Tampa Bay 02/12/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 9:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. ABC Racing kennel advances three into semifinals

    Parimutuels

    ST. PETERSBURG — The maiden voyage by Don Burk into the $30,000 St. Petersburg Derby series — his first as the ABC Racing kennel owner — went as easy as ABC.

  2. Why Grenfell tower burned: Regulators put cost before safety

    World

    The doorbell woke Yassin Adam just before 1 a.m. A neighbor was frantically alerting others on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower about a fire in his apartment. "My fridge blew up," the man shouted.

    At least 79 people were killed in the fire at the Grenfell Tower apartment building in London, and the toll is expected to rise.
  3. Bullpen melts down as Rays lose to Orioles (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Jacob Faria allowed his first two big-league home runs and was touched for a career-high three runs Saturday by the Orioles. Other than that, the rookie making his fourth major-league start did okay against the Baltimore bats.

    The bullpen, not so much.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Jumbo Diaz wipes his face as he walks off the mound after the Baltimore Orioles scored four runs during the eighth inning of a baseball game Saturday, June 24, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) SPD118
  4. Lightning shifts search for defense to free agency

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — As much as he tried, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman left the weekend's draft without acquiring another top-four defenseman.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101
  5. Half of Florida lawmakers fail or nearly fail review of support for public records

    State Roundup

    WEST PALM BEACH — Half of Florida's legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year's legislative sessions.

    State Senator Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton (left) and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran ranked on opposite sides of the spectrum in an analysis of support for open records. Galvano scored a B-minus and Corcoran scored a D-plus.
[Times file photo]