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Tropicana Field proposals still leave questions

ST. PETERSBURG — The bids to redevelop Tropicana Field touched off a new set of questions Wednesday over the Tampa Bay Rays' plan for a new $450-million waterfront stadium.

Relief that three companies submitted bids was replaced by renewed concerns that redeveloping the team's existing ballpark site won't be enough to pay for a new stadium.

The $50-million bid from Hines to purchase and redevelop the 86-acre site, combined with few specifics from two other developers, surprised many who thought the land worth more. The land is the centerpiece of the Rays' plan to finance a new ballpark at Al Lang Field.

"There seems to be a lot of gaps to fill in," said City Council Chairman Jamie Bennett.

Added council member Herb Polson: "$50-million? I'm not excited by that number."

Property and sales taxes from new housing, offices and shops on the Tropicana site could close the gap, Rays officials say. A preliminary estimate of the two revenue streams could add $218-million, the team said.

But those dollars depend on development scenarios laid out this week becoming reality.

In that case, the risk could outweigh the reward.

"This is the first real meaty information we have to look at," Bennett said. "Everybody's got their cards on the table — at least some of them — and now the poker game begins."

Financing possibilities

City officials Wednesday continued to sort out details of the three bids while Rays officials began turning the numbers into a financing plan.

The team has said it will not seek new taxes or to divert existing tax revenue. That means team officials would ask only for the taxes generated by redeveloping Tropicana Field.

Hines, which worked with the Rays and submitted a bid, said tax revenue could total $858-million over 35 years.

The Archstone-Madison bid includes no such number but would likely be higher because it has more retail, office and housing, Rays officials said.

The Williams Quarter bid would generate fewer taxes because it has less development.

"We've said from the beginning, and maybe people didn't internalize it, that this is just not about the land value," said Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt. "We're not surprised by what came back necessarily. I feel pretty good where those numbers are."

Special considerations

Two bids attach special conditions that could steal millions from the Rays' potential pot.

The Hines and Archstone-Madison proposals call for the city to pay for environmental mitigation at the Tropicana Field site, if it's needed.

Archstone-Madison said it might want the city to "equitably" pay to demolish Tropicana Field. The developers also want the city to transform Interstate 175 into a tree-lined boulevard.

And Hines said it might reduce its purchase price if asked to build affordable housing. The Houston developer also wants a city lot east of 10th Street that is not part of the Tropicana development.

The requests are typical, said city development administrator Rick Mussett.

In its bid, Archstone-Madison also created options should the Rays stay at Tropicana Field or attempt to build a stadium west of 16th Street.

The team would share in some profits under that scenario, but not before the city paid to replace stadium parking.

Opponents of the Rays' waterfront stadium plan call the half redevelopment proposal a compromise that would create jobs and tax revenue without a huge city investment.

A waterfront ballpark relies too much on speculation, said Hal Freedman, a founder of the antistadium group St. Pete Protect Our Wallets and Waterfront.

"You don't want to go into debt & betting on something that may never happen," Freedman said. "It's just a big, big risk for a city the size of St. Petersburg."

The Rays say the compromise does not explain who would pay potentially $100-million to build parking garages or even more for a new stadium. "We looked at those options," Kalt said. "The problem is how do you pay for a lot of the things that need to be done for that to happen."

Tropicana Field proposals still leave questions 03/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 11:30am]
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