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County could contribute $300 million to Rays stadium

Mark Parker



Pinellas County Commissioners and Tourist Development Council member met Thursday to discuss capital projects funded by tourism taxes. Photo by Mark Parker.

Pinellas County officials plan to offer about $300 million in local tourism taxes to a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium in St. Petersburg.

That would equate to half of the expected $600 million public-funding request. County Commissioners, administrators and Tourist Development Council (TDC) members briefly discussed the project at Thursday morning’s joint meeting.

Administrator Barry Burton, who leads negotiations on the commission’s behalf, expects St. Petersburg city officials to foot their $300 million bill through bonds. Team owner Stuart Sternberg would pay the remaining balance on a $1.2 billion stadium.

“To be able to create the model, we had to put in something,” Burton said. “That’s a reasonable number for plug number. Whether it’s up or down, it’s good for assumptions.”

A rendering of the Rays and Hines’ proposed new baseball stadium. Image: City of St. Petersburg documents.

County leaders gathered at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach to discuss bed tax – a 6% surcharge on hotel stays – expenditures. According to the TDC website, that generated about $90 million last year, with 60% funding marketing initiatives and 40% supporting capital projects that boost tourism.

Commissioners have a slew of capital improvement projects on the docket and recently allocated $25 million for the Dali Museum’s expansion. In addition, Hurricane Idalia washed away large swaths of beaches that officials already considered “critically eroded.”

The Army Corps of Engineers typically covers most of that cost. However, a policy change that requires all adjacent property owners to sign perpetual public easement documents has resulted in an ongoing stalemate between stakeholders.

Kevin Knutson, assistant county administrator, led a presentation on tourism tax and beach renourishment forecasts. Pinellas government expects to accrue $3 billion over the next 40 years.

Administrators based that projection on a “conservative” 3% growth estimate. Burton noted that the county often sees a 5% annual increase in tourism taxes, and the lower number would compensate for inflation or a down year.

“We’re trying to use this as a rough model to give us some comfort level for us to be able to make decisions,” Burton said. “But I would also tell you, there is a way of bringing in other money. Remember, this is at 100% county cost for all 35 miles of beaches. I think this is the very worst-case scenario.”

A before and after photo of what was once dunes on Indian Rocks Beach. County officials are working to secure emergency authorizations to rebuild the coastline. Photo: LinkedIn.

According to the 40-year forecast, the county would have about $485 million to complete beach and dune renourishment projects. County coffers should also have enough to help fund the Rays stadium, an expansive Philadelphia Phillies baseball complex in Clearwater and the former Toytown landfill’s transformation into a youth sports center.

Commission Chair Janet Long said at an Aug. 16 TDC meeting that she would have “lots of new and very exciting things to share” regarding the Rays stadium in “a couple more weeks.” While that did not materialize Thursday, Commissioner Charlie Justice provided some context after the meeting.

“A couple months ago, I think we were all a little shaken by the Army Corps changing policy implementation,” Justice told the Catalyst. “I think it was, ‘Alright, we’re going to have to make a choice of beach or baseball or any of these other things.

“And so, this gave us some comfort level that we can continue our conversation with the Rays.”

St. Petersburg city officials continue to stick to their previously stated timeline. That would provide city council members with a term sheet to review by the end of summer.

Sept. 23 marks this year’s fall equinox. Justice could not provide a specific date but said, “It could be very soon.”

“I came away with being incredibly encouraged that we’re in a much better financial situation with the tourist development fund than maybe we thought a few months ago,” he added.


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  1. Avatar


    September 14, 2023at4:10 pm

    Here’s a proposal. Tamps gives its cruise terminal rights to St.Pete or the colossal new ships to pass under the Skyway bridge, Tampa gets the stadium.

  2. Avatar


    September 14, 2023at4:15 pm

    Either way Tampa should take the stadium,

  3. Avatar

    Larry Hilderbrant

    September 14, 2023at8:22 pm

    The people of governments should not be funding sports complexes. There are plenty of mega rich people around this state, and the country at large who should be considered for that kind of money. Of all the things that the common people need to have in their lives…….. a sports complex is not one of them. Let’s think affordable housing, affordable, food, better, schooling, beach nourishment, and I could go on. Go find a rich investor.

  4. Avatar

    Al Braithwaite

    September 15, 2023at4:23 am

    Still the best run County on the planet…wish more residents would appreciate that.

  5. Avatar

    Roberto Leon

    September 16, 2023at7:36 am

    No welfare for billionaires. The Rayd can leave and it would have $-0- economic effect. “Jobs” don’t include selling beer 81 times a year. It’s a joke. We could have parks libraries museums and better roads, transit and a score of tiger priorities addressed with public money.

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