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Hillsborough County administrator reveals first written proposal to Tampa Bay Rays

Margie Manning



Mike Merrill, Hillsborough County administrator

Hillsborough County commissioners have gotten their first look at a framework for a potential deal for a stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Ybor City.

The Rays would pay 50 percent of the cost of the land and building the stadium, as part of the key elements of the plan from Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

“I believe we have done the best we can to come back with a deal which involves no public money,” Merrill said. “We’ve got nothing after this, this is the best we can do.”

The Rays, who currently play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, won approval from the City of St. Petersburg in 2016 to look for new stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The team has a deadline of Dec. 31 to make a decision and notify the City, although they could ask for an extension, Merrill said.

The Rays unveiled a plan for a $800 million-plus ballpark on a 14-acre site in Ybor, near the northern tip of downtown’s Channel district, in July.

The site is located in an Opportunity Zone, a program designed to encourage long-term investment and job creation in low-income urban areas and rural communities.

With the Rays paying half, some or all of the rest of the funding would come from private investors in an Opportunity Zone fund, under Merrill’s proposal. Other funding could come from private investment by Ybor landowners through a new Community Development District, or property tax increment revenue generated by new development in two existing Ybor Community Redevelopment Agencies.

Construction cost overruns would be borne by the Rays, and the Rays would be required to make annual rent payments, under Merrill’s framework. The team also would be required to fully fund and maintain reserves for stadium repairs and maintenance, as well as for future capital improvements to the stadium.

“As is the case with existing stadiums [Raymond James, Amalie Arena and Steinbrenner Field], the [Rays] stadium would be immune from property tax,” Merrill said. “Without the stadium being immune from property tax, the cash flows won’t work.”

As the county negotiates with private investors in an Opportunity Zone fund, the county also may be asked to put a guarantee should growth fail to occur in the zone. It would be less than $50 million, and the county would insist it be refundable, Merrill said.

Merrill presented his proposed deal framework to the Rays a few days ago, but there have been no negotiations to date, he told commissioners. If the Rays accept the framework, the next step would be to develop a term sheet.

County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who asked to be the county’s negotiator on the deal in 2014, was not present for the meeting. His role has come under question after a WTSP television report suggested he tipped a landowner to the potential Rays site in advance. Hagan has denied doing anything wrong.

Commissioner Pat Kemp wanted to replace Hagan with Merrill taking a lead role on negotiations, but agreed to withdraw her motion until Hagan was present at the next meeting.





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