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City of Tampa, Rays to craft Sister City proposal by end of 2020

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The aggressive deadline comes after three years of failed negotiations with Hillsborough County

Late yesterday the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Rays and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, along with Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, had discussed the initial framework of a move to Tampa within the Sister City concept, beginning in 2028, and made a mutual commitment to strike a deal by the end of the calendar year.

Hillsborough and Tampa leaders and the Tampa Bay Rays — including owner Stu Sternberg — set an aggressive timeline for reaching a deal to move the team across the bay in 2028.

The end of the year.

It’s an ambitious plan that requires a sign-off by both the Montreal group headed by Stephen Bronfman and Major League Baseball on the split-season concept [...]

The reporting clarifies that the deal would not only be between the Rays and Hillsborough County, but in partnership with the City of Tampa.

“The goal is to try and have an agreement with all three entities by the end of the year. It’s extremely aggressive. However, having gone through the last several-year exercise, I appreciate the sense of urgency and the goal of trying to reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” said Hagan, who led the talks [...]

In referencing the failed Ybor City location, “led” is a generous statement by the Times, as the “exercise” described by the Commissioner was a three-year, failed attempt to find a site and secure funding for a stadium. At the end of the three years allotted there was a proposed location, but no funding, infrastructure, or support within the government and business communities. The only thing Hagan’s previous efforts produced was an FBI investigation.

This time may prove to be quite different, as Tampa Mayor Castor appears to be driving the discussion — as promised after her election to office when Castor said, “I will do what I can to have the Rays move to Tampa.” This stands in stark contrast to the approach of Tampa’s previous Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who kept himself at arms length from the County’s pursuit of Major League Baseball.

Mayor Castor was quoted as “optimistic” about the group’s plan after yesterday’s 2.5 hour meeting — which ran over the scheduled time and pushed back a signing ceremony with her former colleagues at the police union — but perhaps the key takeaway came two sentences later in the article, where Castor noted the public would likely not support her city or Hillsborough County shelling out to fund the new stadium’s build (emphasis my own):

“I’m optimistic about it,” Castor said. “The Rays want to stay in the Tampa Bay area. We want to keep them in the Tampa Bay area, and we’re going to do everything that we can with the caveat that the citizens’ appetite of paying for a stadium is about zero at this point.”

Near-zero! That’s hardly a sign of enthusiastic participation.

The article lightly contradicts itself in saying funding commitments were not discussed while also noting how, “the two sides agreed that funding mechanisms like community development districts, tax-increment financing and federal opportunity zone investment” could be solutions.

This previews what will likely cloud any future conversations about a stadium — no mayor or county commission will commit general public revenue, but they may well be open to creating taxing districts that can generate stadium funds, or supporting grander developments in a surrounding area.

In total, this news is a shocking yet conventional development in the Stadium Saga, as it resurrects a deal once thought to be dead, but puts Tampa/Hillsborough representatives at odds with their peers across the Bay.

Previously, through a memo issued last December, Mayor Rick Kriseman informed the Rays his city would not take part in any Sister City negotiations.

That stance appears to have softened behind the scenes at the leading of members on the City Council. If Kriseman were to throw his hat into the Sister City ring, he would be backed by a treasure chest of funds to draw upon via Pinellas County, with the added benefit of Tropicana Field redevelopment resources.

For now, Kriseman appears to be continuing to try to call the Rays bluff on the Sister City concept, a stance that may be popular with his residents but flies in the face of MLB’s own public statements, which have now endorsed the team’s pursuit of a two-city solution.

Previously in the Rays Stadium Saga: