Millions of dollars committed toward a new Rays ballpark, but negotiations haven't begun

Chuck Sykes of Sykes Enterprises and attorney Ron Christaldi are leaders of Rays 2020, the nonprofit booster group building corporate support for a new ballpark in Ybor City. [Times files]
Chuck Sykes of Sykes Enterprises and attorney Ron Christaldi are leaders of Rays 2020, the nonprofit booster group building corporate support for a new ballpark in Ybor City. [Times files]
Published Sept. 7, 2018

TAMPA — An effort to corral private sector support for a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark in Ybor City has generated millions of dollars in commitments so far, according to a booster group heading up the effort.

"We've got a tremendous response," said attorney Ron Christaldi, a leader of the non-profit Rays 2020. "We touched about 25 percent of companies we intend to touch."

Talks have included sponsorships and season ticket packages over and above commitments already in place for the Rays at Tropicana Field — as well as potentially bigger cash infusions.

"At least of couple of entities have some interest in naming rights and we are continuing those discussions," Christaldi said.

RELATED:Rays look to suburban Atlanta for lessons from the last team to build a stadium

Christaldi declined to provide details Friday and who has made commitments or for how much.

The Ybor City site is located within a new federally designated opportunity zone created as part of the recent federal tax cuts, offering substantial tax breaks for private investment within its boundaries. Christaldi talked enthusiastically about the zone's potential to help move the stadium project forward.

"The opportunity zone opens up significant opportunities that makes funding a project that much more attractive," Christaldi said.

The optimistic tone comes as the clock on the project keeps ticking.

Less than four months remain before a deadline that could put the brakes on the Rays' effort to move from St. Petersburg to Tampa.

New Year's Eve marks a legal deadline with the city of St. Petersburg. That's the expiration date on a 2016 memorandum of understanding between the team and the city giving the Rays three years to find a new home.

The elected official leading the charge in Ybor City ballpark said he isn't worried.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said he is taking a methodical approach to coming up with the money for the nearly $1 billion ballpark plan proposed by the Rays.

"We don't have to have it signed, sealed and delivered by the end of the year," Hagan said. "But the team has to have a sense of where it's going."

Hagan echoed comments by Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg, who told theTampa Bay Times last month that the team should have a good idea by year's end if a deal is possible.

"If it's 93 percent of the way there then we'll have to figure out how to make it work,'' he said, "and if it's 30 percent of the way then we know the answer," Sternberg said then.

St. Petersburg would have a say in any extension of talks. So far, Mayor Rick Kriseman has kept his thoughts to himself. Kevin King, the mayor's chief of policy and public engagement, said the subject hasn't come up yet with the Rays.

"There haven't been any conversations related to the deadline," King said. "They haven't approached us."

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Are the Rays and Hillsborough County in talks? Depends on whom you ask.

Hagan said negotiations between the Rays and Hillsborough County officially haven't begun yet.

Christaldi said fact-finding and diligence are under way, but no terms have been put to paper yet.

The Rays aren't saying much.

"We remain eager and committed to seeing this beautiful, iconic ballpark become a reality," team President Brian Auld said Friday.

Much is still on the drawing board.

Hagan said he is studying how effective it would be to create an entertainment district around the stadium, where the larger it is, "the bigger net you can cast" in raising revenue to help pay for a ballpark.

He's also optimistic about a possible Bright Line high-speed rail terminal near the ballpark that could open up the long-sought Orlando market to the Rays.

"That could be a potential game changer," Hagan said.

In the immediate future, more mundane tasks await. Hagan said he will be meeting with officials with Tampa Electric next week to discuss options for relocating an electrical power substation.

Officials with the utility are involved in discussions over details such as a new location for the substation, said spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs.

Contact Charlie Frago at (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.