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Unanswered questions about the new Rays stadium site

Raybor City is not a guarantee.

Screenshot from the press conference livestream.

With the announcement of a planned stadium in Ybor City, the Rays and Hillsborough County are, today, answering the question of “where.” The next question, “how?” remains open.

Let’s be clear: today’s announcement is the start of a long process whose outcome is by no means certain. We assume, however, that a public announcement from the Rays suggests that they at least see a strong possibility that the remaining questions can be answered.

Here’s what we don’t know about the stadium change:

What happens to Tropicana Field?

The road to this announcement has been a long one.

We can start with the Rays effort to build a new stadium along the St. Pete waterfront, affectionately dubbed the “sail stadium” for its sail-like covering. There were years of growing hostility between the team and St. Pete’s political leadership followed by a noticeable thaw after the election of city councilors and a mayor more open to negotiating the iron-clad use agreement that prohibited the Rays from considering sites outside Pinellas County.

Since that agreement, finalized in January 2016, the Rays have remained largely silent as both St. Pete and Hillsborough County have put forward potential stadium sites. St. Petersburg continued to offer the current Tropicana Field site for redevelopment, with a stadium to be integrated into a larger mixed-use district. That plan looks likely to continue with or without the Rays.

You can hear more from Kriseman here.

Ultimately the stadium and its land will revert back to use by the city of St. Petersburg, which will likely sell off the 80 acres for redevelopment once the Rays are done paying rent and their low-million dollar buyout, and the Rays will not stand to benefit from the sale of the Trop.

Who picks up the check for what will be a costly project?

Here’s what we initially wrote about the cost of the project at the time of the announcement:

Without a site plan and stadium design, the full development cost projections are not known. We know that Atlanta’s Suntrust Park, the last MLB park to open, cost about $650 million. That seems like a reasonable starting point for (excuse the term) ballpark estimates, although a roof will likely add to any Tampa Bay area construction costs.

The Rays are on record from their last stadium proposal as saying that they will finance $150 million of any construction costs, but most observers assume that is at the low end of what they will end up spending. Even if their contribution were to double, there is still a sizable funding gap.

The Rays will certainly hope that a great deal of this gap will be filled with public funding, which has tended to be the case for all but a small handful of professional stadiums. “Public” can mean city, county or state, but the current Florida legislature has seemed reluctant to spend on such projects (thanks, Jeff Loria!) – although state funds were involved in a recent package for upgrading the Blue Jays Spring Training home in Dunedin.

Local government funding of stadiums usually takes the form of borrowing for construction and paying off debt service over the succeeding years. This debt can be paid out of general revenues, but most often is paid by some dedicated revenue stream, often in the form of a special tax of some sort. Potential tax revenue streams in this case might include some portion of the Hillsborough County tourism tax; tax increment financing or other special district taxes levied on surrounding development; or some other kind of sales tax.

It is safe to say that Hillsborough County and Tampa residents, and the officials who represent them, will not be wildly enthusiastic about taxing themselves for a stadium, especially as they are still paying off the debt on Raymond James Stadium through a half penny sales tax. Finding a funding source that is acceptable to Hillsborough County/Tampa leadership and crafting an agreement that protects the interests of taxpayers will be challenging. This remains the biggest stumbling block to a future Ybor Stadium Opening Day.

In addition, the Rays and their advocates will seek additional private sector support. The nonprofit created to help with land acquisition, headed by Ron Christaldi (a local attorney) and Charles Sykes (head of Sykes Enterprises, a Tampa-based corporation specializing in business outsourcing), will be seeking business sponsorships, and there may be efforts to leverage commitments for suite or season tickets into revenue streams for construction. A deal for naming rights could generate something in the $5 - $10 million a year range which can also service construction debt.

How do I get there on game day – and where do I park?

The site is near several important roads, but figuring out how to get people from the Crosstown or I-275 to the site will require some planning and retrofitting of existing infrastructure.

And parking. Yes, parking. I will note that this site is along the route of the TECO trolley. I will add that no doubt new and improved HARTline bus routes will be part of the stadium planning process. I will guess that there will be ample drop off areas for ride hailing and taxi services. Will all that encourage you to leave your car at home? Nah, I didn’t think so.

It’s possible that the 14 acres site will include some parking structures -- perhaps spaces for season ticket holders. But most parking will be offsite. There are about 2000 spaces available in two City of Tampa Garages within walking distance, although those garages also serve Hillsborough Community College and other Ybor attractions. There are many private lots throughout Ybor that will no doubt pick up some slack and we are likely to see some of the other underutilized industrial property nearby convert to game-day surface parking, which is often the case around stadiums.

But the Rays and local planners will need to get creative here, looking into walking paths and shuttles to remote parking, or perhaps bundling the cost of a TECO trolley ticket or even a ride-hailing fare into ticket prices. This is not impossible. Again, PNC Park offers a good example: they don’t offer on-site parking, but instead direct drivers to parking options in adjacent neighborhoods and coordinate some park and ride alternatives with their transit agency.