Tampa mayor supportive of Ybor stadium site

The announcement that Hillsborough County has settled on a preferred site for a potential future stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays took Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn off guard, the mayor said Wednesday.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Ken Hagan revealed the county had acquired the rights to offer the Rays a 14-acre piece of land in Ybor City. Buckhorn was surprised to hear the news and believes the team might have been too.

"I think the Rays were equally surprised. I don't think the timing made sense for their schedule," Buckhorn told reporters Wednesday morning. "We love the Rays. We want to keep the Rays. They've been easy to work with for us. But we can't have folks out there freelancing on a deal of this significance."

Despite his criticism of how the announcement played out, Buckhorn fully supports the location, which is bordered by 4th Avenue, North 15th Street, and Adamo and Channelside drives.

"I think from a land-use perspective, and I've been saying this for probably seven years, that somewhere between downtown and Ybor City makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons," he said. "It connects the dots between a thriving downtown and an Ybor City that's prospering."

The Tampa Bay Rays' president says the team has not made any decisions on possible locations for a new stadium but will evaluate the Ybor City site.

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The property also raises several concerns, including potential parking problems that could come with a new stadium. The mayor, however, believes the location provides a natural solution.

"You already have some existing parking facilities that have been build that the city is paying for. You've got garages in Ybor City that are not necessarily used every night. You've got garages in downtown that are definitely not used at night," he said, adding more parking decks could be constructed and officials would have to determine how to shuttle people from the garages to the stadium if they're not within walking distance.

The mayor also believes 14 acres is enough space for a 30,000- to 40,000-seat stadium, which would be significantly smaller than Tropicana Field. He says private developers would quickly buy up the land surrounding the site and turn it into retail, residential and business space.

That's a possibility that excites some fans in Ybor.

"I would personally love to see these downtown districts revitalized and the historic area brought back to life. And if a stadium comes here, I think it's going to create more incentive for people to see downtown Tampa and Ybor as like a cultural epicenter," said Jeff Brown, a fan who has lived in Ybor for 20 years.

Financing a ballpark whose price tag has been estimated at around $800-million is going to be tricky. Buckhorn and Hagan agree the Rays are going to have to foot a large portion of that bill.

"I can tell you we're not going to raise sales taxes," Hagan pledged Tuesday. "We're going to have to be extremely creative and it's going to be a challenge. I anticipate it taking a fair amount of time to work out the details associated with that."

"The Rays ownership is going to have to come to the table with very, very significant dollars to offset what potentially will be an $800-million stadium," the mayor added.

There is now a nine-month window to convince the Rays to move to the land in Ybor, otherwise the owners of the property can choose to take it off the table.