Stadium money up for grabs in Pinellas County

The Tampa Bay Rays 2015 season ends this weekend.  Meanwhile, the off-season game of finding a path to build a new stadium started today. 

"Today we paid off the county's portion of the debt service on Tropicana Field" county commissioner Ken Welch explained.  "That's a resource that we can apply to other investments, be it a new facility for the Rays or other investments."

The obligation that expired September 30, 2015 was a one-penny sales tax on hotel accommodations.  That generates roughly $8 million a year. 

In terms of borrowing power, "You're looking at I believe $350 million, to $400 million that you can invest in a facility" Welch calculated. 

For years the Rays and St. Petersburg city council members have assumed the same revenue stream could help pay for a new Rays stadium.  But the council has yet to give the franchise permission to look at stadium sites outside of the Tropicana acreage. 

Welch is among those growing impatient.  "We need the Rays and the city of St. Pete to move forward so that we know that there will be an 'ask' from the city and the Rays" he said.

There is other interest in the same revenue stream, most notably a proposed $660 million SportsPark complex on the county's closed landfill called Toytown. 

Next week the county commission will have its first public discussion of the SportsPark project.  "There probably isn't the capacity to do Toytown and a new stadium for the Rays, so that's a problem," Mayor Rick Kriseman told FOX 13 News.  "If we sit and we wait, we potentially lose."

Again this year Rays management refused to discuss stadium issues over the summer.  "There's only a certain window of time every year where they're not playing baseball and they're not chasing the championship and that window's about to open up and it closes in March" city council chairman Charles Gerdes said, before acknowledging the new competition for the same bed tax dollars. 

"We're in jeopardy of losing a revenue stream that gives us an advantage because Tampa, Hillsborough, doesn't have an existing revenue stream," Gerdes said.

Last year the city council rejected a deal negotiated by the mayor and the franchise that would let the Rays look at stadium sites on both sides of the bay. 

Mayor Kriseman said he has maintained cordial relations with Rays management the past few months.  "Obviously the season is coming to a close," Kriseman said.  "Once it's over I'm going to reach back out and start initiating dialogue again and see where we're at and if there's someplace that we can get to to try to make this thing go through."