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Bob Buckhorn says possible Rays stadium in Tampa will be “complicated transaction”

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The day after the St. Petersburg City Council finally voted to give the Tampa Bay Rays management permission to search for new ballpark sites on both side of the bay, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn fielded questions about what it could mean for his city.

“Yesterday was a good day,” the Mayor began his news conference at City Hall, but he wasn’t doing handstands about wooing the Major League Baseball franchise. He soberly emphasized that his goal parallels St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s:  that the Rays stay in the Tampa Bay region for decades to come.

“I am less concerned with where it eventually ends up, and I’m more concerned about putting our best foot forward so that we keep that team,” he said.

The 5-3 council vote Thursday gives the Rays three years to  explore possibilities on the Tampa side of the bay. The team has  examined potential stadium sites in St. Petersburg or surrounding Pinellas County.

The next step will be Rays management connecting with the Hillsborough County committee working to bring the Rays to Hillsborough County. The group consists of Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, Tampa Sports Authority President and CEO Eric Hart, Fifth Third Bank President and CEO Brian Lamb, and Charlie Sykes of Sykes Enterprises. They’re scheduled to meet within the next two weeks.

Buckhorn emphasized again Friday he wants a ballpark built in Tampa’s “urban core.” However, there are limited location options. The previously most-discussed downtown location, Channelside, has no room for a new stadium in Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s redevelopment plan.

Not far from there the ConAgra Foods flour plant site also looks doubtful since the price to relocate it is cost prohibitive, the mayor said.

That leaves the Tampa Park Apartments area in Ybor City, a 21-acre complex that could expand to 40 acres. Buckhorn likes that area because there’s less need to build public parking, with Ybor parking garages and the Tampa Streetcar nearby.

Most of the Tampa Park Apartments are occupied by low-income residents using federal housing vouchers. Buckhorn said if owner S. Kay Andrews sells the property he’s confident residents would be treated with respect when directed to new housing.

“Fortunately for this community, we have done those types of relocations before,” referring to resident transfers at College Hill or Ponce de Leon public housing facilities. “We are good at doing that … but if that site is chosen, there will be some demolition and some relocation.”

“But none of these deals are uncomplicated,” he said. Later in the news conference, he said again, “This will be a complicated transaction with a lot of moving parts, and not just on the financial side. Raymond James (Stadium) was simple by comparison to what this will be.”

The most obvious question that has floated below the surface and now will rise is simply this: Where will the money come from to build a new stadium? Although nobody knows what type of stadium the Rays would build or where it would be, for comparison’s sake, the Miami Marlins ballpark which opened in 2012 cost over $600 million.

Buckhorn said neither he nor Hagan wants to raise taxes to help pay for the park. He said possible revenue sources would be rental car surcharges or possible tourist development taxes, which he called “ideal.”

He later acknowledged, “I can’t tell you how we’re going to pay for this.”

The Rays have previously said they would commit up to a third of the funding for such a park.

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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