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What will it take for Tampa to lure Rays? New analysis lays out roadmap.

The report for the Tampa Sports Authority places the cost of a full-season stadium in Ybor City at just under $860 million, even with a roof.
An analysis of what it would take to build a Tampa Bay Rays stadium in Ybor City appears to be based on a site that once was home to KForce staffing services on Palm Avenue.
An analysis of what it would take to build a Tampa Bay Rays stadium in Ybor City appears to be based on a site that once was home to KForce staffing services on Palm Avenue. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Feb. 6|Updated Feb. 7

TAMPA — An analysis commissioned by the Tampa Sports Authority shows a full-season baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays could be built in Ybor City for about the same price as an $892 million proposal unveiled in 2018.

The figure is lower than the $1 billion-plus price tag projected for a full-season ballpark after Major League Baseball last month killed the Rays’ plan to split the season between Tampa Bay and Montreal.

Ensuring that the analysis included a full-season option was a priority for Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. The move helps avoid having to go back to the drawing board, he said.

“I was adamant that the full-season model be included,” Hagan said. “We are further along than we would have been.”

Local leaders including County Commissioner Ken Hagan said they're glad a Tampa Bay Rays stadium analysis included both split-season and full-season considerations. The team had pushed a split season, but Major League Baseball rejected the idea.
Local leaders including County Commissioner Ken Hagan said they're glad a Tampa Bay Rays stadium analysis included both split-season and full-season considerations. The team had pushed a split season, but Major League Baseball rejected the idea. [ SHADD, DIRK | Tampa Bay Times ]

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor shares that view, said her spokesperson Adam Smith.

“I know the mayor is glad that TSA and its consultants looked at both the split-season and full-season options because, obviously, now the full season is the only option,” Smith said Sunday.

Castor issued a statement later Sunday, “The TSA and their consultants have done excellent due diligence. Our goal was and remains to be good stewards of public tax dollars while working to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay. We still have a lot of work to do.”

A 28-page fiscal analysis was undertaken by consultant AECOM. Another consultant, Skanska, produced a 43-page evaluation of the venue. The two studies were boiled down in a 10-page executive summary by the Sports Authority’s stadium consultant, Irwin Raij. The Tampa Bay Times obtained the draft documents Sunday.

Here are some of the significant takeaways:

  • A stadium with a capacity of 27,000 fans — 23,000 fixed seats, 1,500 berm seats and 2,500 standing-room-only spots — at a cost of $799 million. The figure would rise $90 million to $160 million with the addition of a roof. That’s a must for playing baseball in the summer months, Skanska said.
  • Paying much of the public portion of the stadium costs through a potential levy or assessment within a new “ballpark district” that takes in the stadium site and areas beyond it. The boundaries are roughly Palm Avenue east into Ybor City, south to Adamo Drive and back northwest around Booker T. Washington Elementary School to Nebraska Avenue.
  • An additional $14 million a year in property taxes from nearly 6 million square feet of “ancillary development” in Ybor City, mainly from developer Darryl Shaw’s GasWorx project.
  • A $21 million parking garage. The source of this information is listed in the analyses as “confidential.”
  • No spring training games at the Ybor City ballpark.

Hagan said the studies point to a variety of funding options that would avoid the need to tap general revenue from the budgets of either the city of Tampa or Hillsborough County.

“I’m still optimistic that most of the funding sources included will be user fees,” Hagan said, referring to an assessment on goods and services bought and sold within the ballpark district.

Left to be determined in the analyses was how much of the stadium cost would be paid in public dollars. The Rays have said they were willing to shoulder half the cost of a split-season stadium. They estimated the price tag on such a stadium at $700 million.

The Rays declined comment Sunday.

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The studies bring Hillsborough County and Tampa closer to putting together a financial package for ballpark funding, Hagan said.

“It allows us to go to the next step, to identify potential revenue sources. This gets us one step closer to that,” he said.

Other commissioners took a more measured approach.

“We’re really waiting for them (Rays) to signal what the way forward is,” said Hillsborough Commissioner Harry Cohen. “To me, the end of the split-season concept put us back to square one. So I think anything that’s out there at this point is very premature.”

Tampa City Council Chair Orlando Gudes, who sits on the Sports Authority board, hasn’t seen the analyses. But he said the city faces an affordable housing crisis that, in his opinion, takes precedence over any ballpark contribution.

“The Rays ain’t my biggest issue right now,” Gudes said.

He said he gets far more calls from people facing steep rent increases. He has pushed for the city to implement rent stabilization measures in response to the crisis.

Two locations in Ybor City have been mentioned as possible stadium sites since the idea of moving the team there from St. Petersburg first was made public in 2018. The projected cost at that time for a full-season stadium was $892 million for a site on Adamo Drive. The new studies appear to be based on a site at the northern edge of Ybor City, the former KForce complex on Palm Avenue.

The studies also showed the Rays may be serious about a spring training location in Pasco County.

Publicly, the team indicated it planned to play 16 spring training games in the new Ybor ballpark, but that plan changed, according to the Skanska report. The team told city, county and authority officials Dec. 17 that Major League Baseball “spring training games are no longer planned on being played at the venue.”

“That must mean they’re coming to Pasco County,” Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said Sunday. “At least, I hope so.”

Local and state officials have said previously the team was focusing on Pasco County for a spring training site. The front-runner for a location is within 124 acres of publicly owned property just north of State Road 54, less than 2.5 miles west of the Suncoast Parkway in Odessa.

There, Pasco County owns 49 acres and the Pasco School District has 75 acres — a former county utility spray field — that is targeted for construction of a future high school.

The complex would include a stadium of potentially 10,000 seats for Major League spring training games, regular season minor league games and player development fields.

Simpson has said previously that the Pasco legislative delegation would be willing to help with potential state financing for a spring training site depending on details.

On Jan. 15, Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, submitted a $35 million appropriation request for a “spring training and youth complex.”

The money would be for “planning and construction of a sports training and youth tournament complex.”

It would include several full-size practice fields, including one stadium field with lighting and spectator facilities, team clubhouse and locker room facilities, indoor and outdoor training facilities, kitchen and dining facilities, player housing, and associated parking.

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