TAMPA BAY - Stadium plans like the nearly forgotten Rays Park at Carrillon or even the former landfill known as "Toytown" near the approach of the Howard Frankland Bridge in Pinellas County may get a second look as the financial realities of replacing Tropicana Field sink in.
While Mayor Bob Buckhorn stands ready to tap a source of funding for a downtown stadium worth as much as $100 million, Pinellas County may be able to see that, and raise it.
"We know Pinellas County has financial resources. We might have more than anticipated" said Pinellas County Commission Chairman, Ken Welch.
Welch may be feeling particularly flush because of this:
The current bed tax on hotel rooms in Pinellas takes five pennies of every dollar. One penny is now used to help pay the debt service on Tropicana Field. But when that obligation is paid up in just two more years, that penny is freed up. At that point if the team requests it, the County Commission can choose to spend that revenue stream of about $6 million dollars a year on a new stadium for the Rays. They can even vote to add another penny for that same purpose.
But Pinellas officials know other interests will be clamoring for that bed tax money including those who want to use it for beach renourishment, something essential for Pinellas tourism. But given a choice, Ken Welch would like it spent to keep the Rays in the Bay Area if needed.
"We have a 25 plus year relationship with MLB. We've funded more than $100 million dollars in debt service for Tropicana Field. I certainly think we should continue to be a partner" said Welch.
Whether the future of the Rays lies in Pinellas or Hillsborough, whichever government wins the prize will face the same problem. A hundred million dollars here or there will not pay for a modern stadium with a retractable roof that will cost north of $600 million.
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