Carlton: On the other side of the bridge, cautious Rays optimism

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Tampa Bay Rays have agreed on a deal to let the Rays look in Hillsborough County for a new stadium site.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Tampa Bay Rays have agreed on a deal to let the Rays look in Hillsborough County for a new stadium site.
Published Dec. 10, 2014

So the Rays and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman have finally come up with a potential deal: The Rays would pay if the team leaves before its contract is up, and the city would let the Rays explore new digs in the town across the bridge.

You know — the one where politicians have long quipped about whether to be the boyfriend in this divorce and made it plain they're plenty interested once the ink dries on any separation papers.

You'll notice, however, that this week's news was not greeted in Tampa with the unbridled, cartwheeling jubilation of, say, hosting another Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium (more on Ray Jay in a minute). Sure, everyone on the Tampa side is plenty enthused about the possibilities, but it's tempered with caution about where and how much and who would be doing the paying, given taxpayers who are in no mood. And tone is pretty important in the next phase for Tampa Bay and the Rays.

You only have to drive by the talked-about Tampa stadium sites to get their potential: office and residential towers nearby, hotels and restaurants in place, the hopping Ybor City entertainment district not far away.

But as the Tampa Bay Times reported before Monday's announcement, potential places for a stadium in Tampa are more scarce now, given a downtown that is growing. Each possibility has possibility, and complications that could be deal-breakers.

Take what's arguably the best option, acreage optimally situated between downtown and Ybor City and already part of a Community Redevelopment Area (which could help with financing). Older apartment housing would have to go and an elementary school would likely have to be moved, a big consideration.

Another option is a flour mill near the Channel District — an odd sight, squat and industrial in the midst of shiny buildings and tall highways. That could cost $70 million to move, and plans for nearby land call for development other than baseball.

Hey, things are happening downtown — a plan for a medical school there is a head-turner all its own.

A West Shore area site where Jefferson High and two other schools sit? Good luck, given fierce blowback expected from alums and the neighborhood.

And it was good to hear Rays enthusiast Mayor Bob Buckhorn, when asked about the possibility of one of downtown's rolling riverfront parks as a site: "No. No. No. God, no."

So, the money. A lot of people here will not forget that half-cent sales tax on their backs that paid for Raymond James Stadium, among other things — affront enough to make one longtime City Council member vow never to set foot inside. It's also instructive to remember this is a citizenry that so far refuses to pay a tax for transportation improvements, no matter how long we sit in traffic.

So it was also important to hear another of the Rays' most determined suitors, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, say there is no pot of gold to be had here, that funding will have to be creative, that commitments from the Rays and the private sector for a significant portion would be key to making this happen.

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At the start of something this big, tone matters. "I'd say: cautiously optimistic," Hagan called it, that we'll play Rays ball one day on the Tampa side of the bay.