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Ken Hagan says negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays will be transparent, with one exception

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

As negotiations continue between Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay Rays about a potential new stadium, Commissioner Ken Hagan said on Wednesday he wants county staff to put out a request for proposal to have an underwriting team ready to sell stadium revenue bonds.

“My goal is to come up with a game plan within one year that will ensure that the team remain in Tampa Bay for decades to come,” the commissioner told his colleagues.

Hagan is part of a committee of Hillsborough County officials who met last week with Rays officials for the second time since the city of St. Petersburg approved an agreement in January that allows the ball club to survey the area in search of a ballpark to replace Tropicana Field.

The Rays have a lease with St. Petersburg to play at Tropicana Field, but have made it known for years that they want to play in a different ballpark in the region, as they continued to struggle with their home attendance.  The recently approved agreement gives the Rays three years to find another stadium site, but requires them to give the city at least six months to come up with a proposal of its own. The team is not allowed to leave Tropicana before 2018.

“This organization is a regional asset, but let’s be honest – Tampa and Hillsborough County is the epicenter of the Tampa Bay region,” Hagan declared on Wednesday. “As Tampa goes, so goes our county. And as the county goes, so goes our region. So the importance of keeping the Rays in our community transcends wins losses and how the team performs on the field.”
Hagan has been a leader on the Board of County Commissioners in working on opening up negotiations with the Rays in the county. He told his colleagues that while he recognizes the importance of transparency as the negotiations continue, he drew the line when it came to information about potential sites.
“We cannot and we will not negotiate in public,” he declared. “This would have a disastrous impact on potential land acquisition, and would place us in a position of openly competing with St. Petersburg. This would unquestionably compromise our success of keeping the Rays in our region.”
Negotiations to date have not yet focused on sites or on an equally important issue – how to pay for such a stadium.
The franchise has made it known that they are looking at a “next generation ballpark,” in Hagan’s words. Something “dramatically different than the traditional model.”
 One of the major factors in the Rays desultory attendance figures over the years is their lack of corporate support.  Team president Brian Auld said last week that the need for more support from the business community has been an obvious takeaway from the research they’ve done to date.

Fifth Third Bank Tampa Bay President Brian Lamb and Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes, two members of the Hillsborough committee working with the Rays, have been tasked with helping out in that effort.

 

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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