TAMPA — The governing board that oversees sports arenas in Hillsborough County talked about but then rejected wading into the Tampa Bay Rays stadium debate Monday.
With the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce forming a caucus to study creative financing options for a new stadium, Tampa City Council Chairman Tom Scott posed the question.
Scott serves as a member of the Tampa Sports Authority, which runs Raymond James Stadium and has served as a landlord of sorts of the St. Pete Times Forum and the New York Yankees spring training field. Scott asked: Shouldn't the agency lend its expertise to the discussion?
"If the train is going to leave the station, we need to be on it," he said.
Other board members of the Sports Authority questioned whether that could lead to perceptions that Hillsborough County is trying to steal the team from St. Petersburg. Their position prevailed and Scott's suggestion went nowhere, other than sparking a consensus that Sports Authority officials will be available to anyone who has questions about building a stadium.
"I think this is something that gets us into some legal barriers," said member Frank DeBose.
St. Petersburg has an agreement with the Rays that keeps the team at Tropicana Field for another 17 years. The Rays ownership group has made clear it isn't interested in staying at the Trop that long. St. Petersburg officials, meanwhile, have said they expect the team to honor the agreement and have indicated they'll take a dim view of anyone who tries to change that.
Against that backdrop, the Tampa chamber agreed last week to form a committee to study financing options for a new stadium as part of an effort to ensure the team stays in the region. The work will not be specific to a stadium location, and will emphasize looking at private financing options with the expectation that taxpayers aren't interested in bearing the costs.
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or firstname.lastname@example.org.