Hillsborough official: Rays need more than $150 million for ballpark deal

County Administrator Mike Merrill said they hope negotiations start soon
Aerial view looking to the South of the proposed baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa.  LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
Aerial view looking to the South of the proposed baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA | Times
Published Nov. 30, 2017|Updated Nov. 30, 2017

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said Thursday that it will take more than $150 million from the Tampa Bay Rays to build a ballpark in Ybor City.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg recently floated the $150 million figure as what the team can afford to pay and still put a competitive team on the field.

On Wednesday, Sternberg told the SportsBusiness Daily and Journal's Dealmakers in Sports conference that the amount could change depending on sponsorships, business partnerships and other support from Tampa's corporate world.

"That's really what's going to drive the difference between us being able to put up $150 million, and if we find that those things are more robust, then that number can certainly go up," he said, per SportsBusiness Daily.

It will have to, Merrill said, who added that the county was treating the figure as an "opening number" in negotiations that will play out over the next year.

The county is operating under the assumption that a stadium will cost upward of $600 million, Merrill said, and recent history suggests its likely to be closer to $800 million.

"To that extent, $150 million doesn't really— it's part of it, but it's not what they'll need," Merrill said.

"Until we can sit across the table and agree on a price and talk about the other pieces, folks shouldn't really be grabbing onto anything as the final number."

In October, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan unveiled a proposal for a new Rays ballpark on 14 acres on the outskirts of Ybor City. In November, Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times that he was "genuinely excited" about the location.

Hillsborough leaders are hoping to soon put together a team that will negotiate a financing package with the Rays. Merrill is optimistic a deal can be reached before January 2019, the expiration date for an agreement that allowed the Rays to search for a new ballpark outside of St. Petersburg, but he wants both sides to begin meeting regularly as soon as possible.

"It was positive Stu Sternberg said he liked the site," Merrill said. "The next logical step is, 'Ok, let's get our teams together.' "