Study says Hillsborough and Pinellas County could afford $500 million stadium for Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - There is good news for those Tampa Bay Rays fans in support of a new stadium: An 18-month long study shows both Hillsborough and Pinellas County can afford it.

The Bay Area Baseball Stadium Funding Caucus presented the results of their cross-country study on Monday.  The presentation comes after a year-and-a-half of traveling to different cities, meeting with elected officials and baseball teams in order to determine a viable funding plan for a $500 million stadium.  The Caucus is a partnership of the St. Petersburg and Tampa Chambers of Commerce.

In the plan presented by the group, the Rays would pay $150 million while $350 million would come out of public funding from county coffers.  The study looked at both Hillsborough and Pinellas County's ability to pay.

"They both have the capacity to build a stadium," said former Caucus Chairman Chuck Sykes. "That's the message.  We can get it done."

The plans presented require no additional taxation of current residents.  But the breakdown is different depending on the side of Tampa Bay.

Hillsborough has more political obstacles due to the contract that ties the Rays to St. Petersburg for 15 more seasons.  However, the county has more fundraising capacity with Tampa International Airport and theme parks that could boost a tourism tax.  Other options for funding in Hillsborough County, according to the study, include community redevelopment funds and a community investment tax, all of which already exist.

Pinellas County has fewer legal hurdles but less money, especially as a new design for The Pier will likely tap into a good portion of public development funding.  Options cited by the plan include a half-cent sales tax, "Penny for Pinellas," and state revenue sharing.

"This is something that's long.  It's complicated," Sykes said.

It's also something with a tight deadline.  According to the study, a financing plan is an immediate concern, because in October 2018, the current Pinellas County tax revenue will no longer automatically go toward paying for Tropicana Field, and so that money may be reallocated for general fund purposes.

"If we miss that window, we believe we'll be in a really difficult spot, particularly in Pinellas County," Sykes said.

The Rays currently attract about 6,000 fans per game.  The sustainable goal, to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay area, is 30,000 fans.  With a new stadium, Sykes believes the Rays will see a 36% increase in ticket sales in the first year.  After that, he expects it will drop to 21%.

"We really do care about the Rays," he said.  "We want the Rays to know that our community cares."

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