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Buckhorn asks for second chance for Rays ballpark site to get federal help

The mayor proposes swapping the parcel for another property around Armenia and Hillsborough Avenues already approved by the state as an economic opportunity zone.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has asked the state to rethink its decision not to seek federal tax breaks for a parcel of land in Ybor City where the Tampa Bay Rays want to build a new stadium.

City officials insist the request to designate the property as an economic opportunity zone is tied to its unique location and not to any possible stadium deal.

"That's not the primary reason we want it included," said Christina Barker, Buckhorn's special assistant. "The fact that the Rays are looking at it shows how prime it is for economic development."

Still, the designation has figured in ongoing discussions about how to finance a new stadium.

The 415-acre parcel in Ybor City stretches northeast from the intersection of Adamo and Channelside Drives, to East 4th Avenue and East 15th Street. It takes in land the Rays have identified as their preferred site for a new stadium to replace Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The zones are part of President Donald Trump's tax-cut legislation that reward private developers with tax breaks when they invest in low-income areas. Florida has sent Washington, D.C., a list of 427 proposed sites, culled from more than 1,200 requests made by local entities statewide.

Plan to help entice Rays to Ybor City hits snag

More than 100 of the sites proposed by the state are from the Tampa Bay area, but the Ybor City site didn't make the list. Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill last month called the omission a "minor setback" in local efforts to assemble a financial package for a Rays stadium in Ybor City.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity is the agency that analyzed the applications and recommended sites to Gov. Rick Scott. On Tuesday, the department's spokeswoman said Hillsborough County didn't make it clear the Ybor City site was at the top of its list.

"Hillsborough County did not prioritize opportunity zone census tracts upon submitting them to the state for review and recommendation," spokeswoman Tiffany Vause said in an email. "We will forward this request to the U.S . Treasury Department which is currently reviewing input from the states."

Barker said the Ybor City site is important because it connects the historic Latin District, Downtown and the growing Water Street development.

"It's something we think it would be a good tool to have in the tool box of the Rays or anyone else," Barker said. "We don't want that site to go undeveloped because it's in the discussion (as a stadium site)."

Buckhorn proposes swapping the Ybor City parcel for another property around Armenia and Hillsborough Avenues that was added to the state's list of economic opportunity zone proposals.

City and county officials agree the Ybor City site has greater economic potential and could generate as many as 9,633 jobs compared to 341 from the Armenia/Hillsborough site, according to estimates.

The city discussed its appeal to the state with county officials but didn't consult the Rays before it emailed Gov. Scott and other state officials late Tuesday, Barker said.

The Rays declined comment.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story reported the wrong size for the parcel of land pitched as an economic opportunity zone in Ybor City.