TAMPA — For years, the sticking point in discussions around building a new ballpark in Tampa Bay for the region’s Major League Baseball team was how to divvy up the cost.
The Tampa Bay Rays have publicly promised to pay for half of a $700 million stadium. Now, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says her staff is working with Hillsborough County and the Tampa Sports Authority to craft what her spokesman described as a “workable financial package.”
The spokesman, communications director Adam Smith, said that the mayor has not publicly committed to taxpayers paying half of the stadium costs and that no dollar figure has been agreed upon. Castor told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday that the package will be ready soon.
“Let’s say, because nothing ever moves as fast as we want it to ... let’s say the first of the year,” Castor said when asked about a timeline for financial options to be presented to the Rays.
Castor’s comments came a day after she met with Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg in the Harbour Island offices of an engineering firm. It was their first face-to-face meeting in about two years.
That meeting, Castor said Wednesday, was “basically an update.”
“There’s been a great deal of activity recently. And so there’s all kinds of rumors and things apparently swirling,” she said.
Major League Baseball still hasn’t given its official stamp of approval for the Rays to split their season between Tampa and Montreal as the team has proposed, Castor said.
But the team is serious about having spring training and the 40 or so home games at a 27,000-seat ballpark at the western edge of Ybor City, she said.
“It did come up that there were some concerns about the split season and that it wouldn’t work. But there wasn’t any talk about one city playing against the other,” the mayor said when asked if the Rays might be using the two cities to get the best possible deal in one of them.
As for public money, Castor said that only city general funds dollars were off limits for Tampa’s contribution.
“Nothing is off the table with the exception of the citizen’s footing the bill for the stadium,” she said. “Everything is still possible as a funding mechanism. As I said, I envision more than one proposal presented to the Rays.”
Castor said she’s received very little “pushback” from Tampa residents about the split season concept. The “vast majority” of Tampa residents who have bent her ear want the team to stay in the region, she said.
She dismissed some sports economists who have questioned whether a new baseball stadium would spark economic development in the city.
“I believe there is an impact. Tell me that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t had an impact, financial impact, positive financial impact in the Tampa Bay area,” Castor said. “I think it would help immensely.”
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A Rays ballpark would act as a catalyst for the city, helping to complete an active, booming ring around downtown and connecting the Riverwalk to Ybor, she said.
The Rays have asked the state for $43 million to help create pedestrian and bike lanes to the site around the former Kforce headquarters near the intersection of E Palm Avenue and the Nuccio Parkway.
Castor thinks the state will come through with the money,
“These are very necessary and impactful projects that we have proposed that will literally connect all of our downtown area with so many different neighborhoods. So I can’t imagine how they wouldn’t be supported by the state,” Castor said.
The Rays declined to comment.