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Is it too late to build a stadium in Tampa?

As we approach the Jan. 30 announcement from St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch on his preferred stadium developer, the question remains: what about Tampa?

Not long after the Rays submitted their proposal to St. Pete, there were reports that the team was also looking at a Tampa site along the Ybor Channel, bring back the long desired hope among Rays fans for a water front stadium in a downtown area.

This location on the downtown Tampa waterfront had been an active shipyard, which we wrote about as a potential site back in 2016. To refresh your memory, we had thought it was unlikely that the shipyard would relocate, and we noted some other drawbacks to the site, namely its configuration and its isolation from both Channelside and Ybor.

Since then, Ybor developer Darryl Shaw has bought the land, and the majority of the surrounding land, which shows you how little we know about either real estate or ship building; the shipyard is indeed relocating.

At least in theory that site could be available, and the Rays have teased their interest by preparing a stadium rendering through leading stadium design firm Populous, as shown above, in an image first obtained by the Tampa Bay Business Journal through a public information request.

We could imagine that a stadium could be an appealing use for this site if you are Darryl Shaw; however, the lack of easy access to other parts of the city — would make this a difficult and expensive place to develop housing or other kinds of commercial activities from the jump. Nevertheless,a stadium could be a sufficient magnet around which to build a waterside activity node.

Critically, this Tampa Bay Times article notes that there is no stadium proposal under consideration, and the Rays have held no serious talks about that site with city or county officials.

A lot, then, needs to happen for this site to be in contention.

First, Darryl Shaw would have to be interested in selling it, or in partnering with the Rays to act as a developer for a stadium and surrounding amenities. What would make this attractive to him? Would an ownership share of the Rays be on his shopping list? Would Sternberg, who has been having some issues acquiring ownership from minority shareholders, be willing to part with a piece of the team to get a Tampa stadium?

Next, public officials would need to be on board for a number of things. I assume the site would need to be rezoned, and I assume there would be a lot of public infrastructure investment needed to make this site viable. Would the City of Tampa be supportive enough of this project to move land use changes and capital investment dollars quickly enough to build a stadium by 2028?

And that doesn’t even touch on the funding for the stadium itself, which we know is likely to climb close to $1 billion. We know that St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have some sources they can tap without really pushing too hard. These include the Pinellas Tourist Development Tax, which helped build Tropicana Field, and expected redevelopment benefits from the larger site redevelopment, which can be captured through a Tax Increment Finance district.

But those same funding sources are more limited on the Hillsborough side of the Bay. Pinellas County, thanks to its beaches, takes in substantially more hotel tax money than Hillsborough (in 2021, $72.5 million compared to $36.9 million), and Hillsborough County also has substantial commitments to the Convention Center, Amalie Arena, Raymond James Stadium and (sob) Steinbrenner Field. It’s not clear what they would have available for a baseball stadium.

As for creating a Tax Increment Finance district, well, the area is already in one. The Channelside Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) includes the west side of the Ybor Channel area:

Would the City Council, which oversees all CRA’s, want to use CRA funds, which have helped build infrastructure for the massive new construction found all around the Channelside district, largely in this new area? Is there enough potential for development along the channel to make this a good use of public dollars? And could the area extend to the unanticipated opportunities on the norhteast side of the water?

Finally, even if all these pieces could come together — city approvals, city funds, county funds — how long would it take?

No doubt St. Pete/Pinellas County will at some point require a full commitment from the Rays before they move ahead with their plans. They won’t allow the Rays to drag this process out while the team tests the waters in Tampa. It’s quite possible, then, that the team will need to go all in on the St. Pete redevelopment before they have any sort of assurance that an Ybor Channel stadium is feasible.

I have little doubt that a stadium on the Tampa side of the Bay would draw more attendance and more corporate support than we are likely to see in St. Pete.

St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, however, have both the means and the willingness to provide significant financial support for a stadium. Mayor Welch is unlikely to wait around any further while the Rays see whether they can make things work in Hillsborough County.