ST. PETERSBURG — It was a pointed musical choice: Minutes before the official announcement of a deal for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium, Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” played over a speaker system at Tropicana Field.
The message, like that of the whole to-do, was that, after years of waiting and debating, a plan for a new stadium is finally here. Officially, it’s not yet signed, though, much less sealed and delivered: The St. Petersburg City Council and Pinellas County Commission still have to approve the terms of the deal, a process that officials said Tuesday will take until early next year.
Should the deal go through, it would mark the largest development project in Pinellas County history, County Commission chairperson Janet Long said. Brandi Gabbard, the City Council’s chairperson, called it “the largest redeveloment our city will ever see.”
The plan calls for about $600 million in public city and county money for the new ballpark, split evenly, while the Rays will cover the remaining $700 million in expected stadium costs. The city will pay as much as another $130 million for public infrastructure in the development around the stadium.
That money will not come from property taxes, though, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch promised during a news conference after the announcement ceremony Tuesday. Nor will it require new or increased taxes. The city will fund its portion, he said, through “bonding of a number of revenue streams.”
“We looked at that $300 million as an investment that will pay dividends for the city of St. Petersburg,” he said, referring to the city’s portion of the public funding for the ballpark.
The county, meanwhile, will pay for the stadium with tourist bed tax dollars — a tax charged to people who stay in hotel rooms or short-term rentals — as has been planned all along, Long said.
For now, at least, there are no questions about the feasibility of such an allocation. As the county’s tourism board heard last week, after a recent analysis, the county expects to be able to pay for renourishment of Pinellas’ eroded beaches without sacrificing funding for a ballpark or other tourist-tax projects.
“We do have the money to do both,” Long said Tuesday. “Our bed taxes are now higher than they’ve ever been, and god willing, they’re going to continue to rise.”
The agreement includes a $105.3 million land purchase by the Hines/Rays redevelopment group for land around the stadium of the Gas Plant district, the Black community razed to build what’s now known as Tropicana Field. That’s up from the $97 million land purchase included in the group’s original proposal. Pinellas County would own between 15 and 20 acres of the site, including the ballpark and two parking garages. It would lease that land to St. Petersburg, which would sublease it to the Rays.
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The city and county are “very focused on our return-on-investment,” St. Petersburg City Administrator Rob Gerdes said Tuesday. Over the course of the proposed 30-year lease agreement, he said, the ballpark and development are projected to generate $200 million in tax revenue for Pinellas County schools, $55 million for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and hundreds of millions more for both the city and county.
Rays president Matt Silverman acknowledged that the team’s planned investment of $700 million-plus is more than the organization had anticipated “or expected to be able to put in.”
“It’s going to be a combination of equity from our ownership and borrowing,” he added. “We’re going to work through that as we go.”