Buckhorn vows to make 'best deal' for Rays, taxpayers

Commissioner Ken Hagan surprised the Rays, fellow commissioners, and the cities of St. Pete and Tampa by announcing Thursday what the team hoped to say on Friday.

"Stu Sternberg, the principal owner of the Rays, will (at) the press conference," said Hagan. "He is expected to state for the first time publicly that Ybor City is the team's preferred site."

Hagan also detailed for the first time how the team plans to raise a big portion of the projected $800 million for the stadium.

He says the push for corporate cash will be spearheaded by Tampa business bigwigs Charlie Sykes and Ron Christaldi.

"Unfortunately in St. Pete. ticket sales and corporate support has lagged through the years," said Hagan. "It is important that we show significant improvement in ticket sales and corporate sponsorships and community support."

Discussion of public funding sources, like special tourism districts or surcharges on travelers has been widespread.

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The Tampa mayor is wary of the potential cost to taxpayers and took exception to Commissioner Hagan's leak ahead of Friday's press conference.

He said it was not productive in fostering cooperation or trust.

"It is bush league. It's not surprising. It's typical," said Buckhorn. "For me, it is always the long-term goal I care about. I can live with the minor league politicians. I am focused on whether this deal makes sense."

On his side of the bay, St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman told city councilors that they should prepare to redevelop the Trop site without a stadium, but also that the Rays could still strike out in Tampa and come back to St. Pete.

"The easy part is picking a site," said Kriseman. "Now is when the real work begins.

It was last October when Hagan made a surprise announcement about a group of property owners who agreed to pool resources on a 14-acre site not far from the Port of Tampa.  The proposed site is bounded by Channelside Drive on the west, 4th Avenue on the north, 15th Street on the east, and Adamo Drive on the south.

It’s within the Channelside-Ybor corridor rumored to be a favorite of the team and Tampa civic leaders, and not far from Water Street Tampa, a planned overhaul of Channelside being directed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinick.

But last fall’s announcement appeared to catch the team and even the mayor off guard.

FOX 13’s Kevin O’Donnell was the first to report Thursday that Hagan would announce support from a corporate coalition on Friday. Hagan also expects Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to officially announce their support of the Ybor site.

But until the team is satisfied with strong support from corporations for season tickets, they likely won't move ahead with discussing how to pay for the stadium.

“Financing still remains a major obstacle,” O’Donnell noted. “But agreeing to a location and building a corporate coalition was a key step in moving forward with plans to move the Rays to Tampa.”

The team’s lease with the city of St. Petersburg ties them to Tropicana Field until 2027, but St. Pete did agree to a potential buyout option in 2016.  That buyout would be as high as $24-million if the Rays left the county, with reduced amounts if they stayed in St. Pete.