Tampa Bay Rays president: Approaching deadline on stadium search is not a cause for concern

From left, Rays 100 vice chairman Michael Griffin, Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins, Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld and Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Steve Griggs talk with Tampa Downtown Partnership chairman Mickey Jacob on Tuesday during a downtown partnership panel discussion on sports in the Tampa Bay area at Amalie Arena. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
From left, Rays 100 vice chairman Michael Griffin, Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins, Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld and Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Steve Griggs talk with Tampa Downtown Partnership chairman Mickey Jacob on Tuesday during a downtown partnership panel discussion on sports in the Tampa Bay area at Amalie Arena. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
Published October 31 2018
Updated October 31 2018

TAMPA — It’s almost November, and Dec. 31 is the expiration date for the three-year window that the city of St. Petersburg gave the Tampa Bay Rays to explore their options in Tampa.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has said the Rays have pushed Hillsborough officials to come up with a financing structure for the proposed Ybor City ballpark by the end of the year.

But on Tuesday, Rays president Brian Auld said there’s been no discussion of extending the deadline, nor does he see a reason to talk about it at the moment.

"We think that there’s enough time to get done what we need to get done between now and the end of the year," Auld said after a Tampa Downtown Partnership panel discussion on sports in the bay area.

"In our conversations with the city and the county, and the folks working on the deal from their end, they have not asked or expressed a need for an extension," he said, "so since we don’t see one on our end, I think we’re in good shape."

First, the Nov. 6 elections need to take place. Auld said the Rays have tried to not to be an issue in the elections while various local officials they have been working with are running for re-election.

"We’ll get to baseball in due time," he said. Based on conversations he’s had, Auld expects Hillsborough County and Tampa officials to have a stadium financing plan ready to present soon. "It’s not going to be easy, and there’s a lot of funding sources that need to be explored. There are a lot of regulations surrounding things like Opportunity Zones that still need to be ferreted out, but I know that we’ve got a partner that is committed to keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay and understands that Ybor is the best location to do that."

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg has said he expects the team to put more than $150 million toward the $892 million estimated cost of the ballpark the team has proposed for Ybor City.

BEHIND THE NUMBERS: Roof drives lofty cost of Rays’ proposed Ybor City ballpark

"Until we have a sense of how this puzzle is going to come together, it’s going to be hard for us to be more specific," Auld said. As commitments being sought by the community-based Rays 100 committee firm up, he said, "we can kind of crunch the numbers on our side."

During the panel discussion, held at Amalie Arena, Rays 100 co-chairman Mike Griffin said the committee is meeting with companies to ask them to expand their buys of tickets, sponsorships and suites, and, so far, the conversations are going well.

"We really haven’t been told no by anybody yet," Griffin said. "There’s a little bit of, we’d like to see what’s coming next."

That reaction falls into two categories, Griffin said after the event. Some companies simply aren’t ready to make commitments because they don’t know generally where their business will be in a few years. Others want to see more details about ballpark financing.

Beyond the future of the Rays, a theme of Tuesday’s discussion was that the game experience and the broader fan experience, both inside and outside the venue, are increasingly intertwined, and both benefit as downtown evolves and offers local and visiting fans more to do.

As they plan for the Super Bowl returning in 2021, organizers look at this year’s College Football Playoff national championship as a blueprint.

"Using the Riverwalk as the backbone to the attendee experience and doing a lot of programming around that worked really well," Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins said. "No offense to any of our competitors, but they don’t have that. It’s such a differentiator for us when you talk about a compact, accessible experience."

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Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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