Meeting kicks off Rays stadium talks in Tampa

- Following their first sit-down meeting Friday morning, Tampa Bay Rays executives and Tampa leaders described  their meeting as "productive and collaborative," but admitted they are a long way away from coming to a  decision about a future stadium site.

The meeting, which was held in an office attached to the Rays team store in downtown Tampa, included Mayor  Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and several business owners. Rays team president Brian Auld led the team's contingent of attendees.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that at the end of the day we'll be able to find a long-term solution that's  mutually beneficial for the entire Tampa Bay region," Hagan said afterward, adding it may take one to two years to iron out logistics should the Rays decide to move across the bay from their current home at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

"This was just a kickoff meeting for us to explain a little about what we're looking to do, what some of our  constraints are and to hear a little bit from them about how they're thinking about this whole process," Auld added.

A day earlier, the Rays released a document outlining their vision for a future ballpark: their new home should be at least 20 acres, accessible to major roadways and population centers, and close to existing and future mass transit options.

Rays ownership wants to do that in three steps, according to the plans.

First, team officials will analyze the strengths and weaknesses of regional business centers in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Next, the team will identify and evaluate sites using six criteria, including the size and geometry of the property, regional connectivity, site readiness and whether a ballpark would spur surrounding development.

The last step would be to determine if any sites satisfy all those wants.

"We are so fortunate to be able to be talking about this. Ballparks get built once in a generation and to be  able to help make that happen for Tampa Bay is just so exciting," Auld said. "I can tell you we're throwing  out the old model and we're going to explore absolutely every possibility."

Auld said it's too early to discuss what the finished product will look like and the team isn't prepared to discuss any potential landing spots for a new stadium.

"We've got to make sure we get this right. You only get one shot," he said.

While finances were discuss during Friday's meeting, Hagan said it's likely a new stadium will cost between $400 million and $700 million.

Hagan and Buckhorn said there will be no plans to raise taxes.

"The one thing I've been very consistent about saying is any stadium deal is going to have to be primarily funded by the team and the private sector," the commissioner said.

The mayor's preferred location for the Rays has been a large parcel of land near Ybor City that is currently owned by a not-for-profit entity that operates the Tampa Park Plaza Apartments.

But Buckhorn said he's not limiting the city's options.

"We have a pretty good idea intuitively where the likely locations might be because they're employment centers and they're connected transit, but ultimately [the Rays] are going to have to decide it," he said.

Pinellas County leaders will also be making a big pitch to keep the team there and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman has been confident the team will ultimately decide that's the best option.

Everyone involved has agreed that, in the end, keeping the Rays in the Bay Area is the priority.

"When you have an economic engine of the magnitude of a professional sports franchise, it's incumbent on  elected officials, business leaders to work together to ensure that that economic engine remains here," Hagan said. "We're very fortunate to be one of the few communities that has Major League Baseball."

Hagan believes the two sides will sit down again within the next month.

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