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Time running out for officials to reach stadium deal with Rays

A rendering of a new $892 million Rays ballpark planned for Ybor City. The team and elected officials have yet to agree a financing package for the stadium. The team faces a Dec. 31 deadline to give St. Peterburg notice of whether it plans to leave Tropicana Field ahead of the end of its 2027 lease.  [Populous Architects]
A rendering of a new $892 million Rays ballpark planned for Ybor City. The team and elected officials have yet to agree a financing package for the stadium. The team faces a Dec. 31 deadline to give St. Peterburg notice of whether it plans to leave Tropicana Field ahead of the end of its 2027 lease. [Populous Architects]
Published Nov. 14, 2018

TAMPA — Less than two months remain until the window closes on the three-year agreement that the city of St. Petersburg gave the Tampa Bay Rays to explore stadium options in Tampa.

But the team and elected leaders have yet to publicly reveal how the community would help pay almost $900 million to move the team to a new ballpark in Ybor City.

With elections now out of the way, negotiations between the team and city and county officials on a ballpark financing plan are expected to kick into high gear. That included meetings last week between recently re-elected Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Irwin Raij, the county's outside counsel on stadium issues.

But time is running out and it's unclear if an agreement will emerge before Dec. 31. That's the deadline for the team to give St. Petersburg notice if it will take up a clause in its exploration agreement that allows it to leave Tropicana Field before the end of it lease, which runs through 2027.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill on Tuesday said he is optimistic that a deal can be struck. Still, on Friday, he canceled the regularly scheduled updates he gives to county commissioners until he has something substantial to tell them.

"I don't know when I will have something concrete," Merrill said. "It could be sometime tomorrow. It could be Dec. 24. I don't know."

The deadline in the Rays' exploration agreement could be a major stumbling block since it doesn't have any language specifically authorizing an extension. That would require new negotiations between the Rays and approval by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council.

"We're very mindful of the end of the year," Merrill said. "I don't think anybody knows at this point if the Rays are intending to or are able to get an extension from St. Petersburg."

In addition to money from the team, the financing package is expected to include tourist taxes, community redevelopment area funds, financing based on economic opportunity zones and fees from a new entertainment district around the ballpark.

County Commissioner Ken Hagan told a local rotary club in September he expects to unveil the outline of a stadium deal by the end of the year.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times

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