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Buckhorn: Hillsborough ballpark requires 'significant' Rays investment

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Published:   |   Updated: August 9, 2013 at 04:15 PM

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Rays may be asked to put up $200 million or more toward any future stadium in Hillsborough County, or at least a third of the project's cost, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Friday.

Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan held a joint news conference Friday to discuss a potential city-county effort to lure the Rays to Hillsborough County. The meeting was remarkably sudden, given that St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster just revealed Monday that he approves of letting the team look across the bay for stadium sites.

However, Buckhorn and Hagan both said a Rays stadium could be a huge economic benefit to Tampa and Hillsborough County.

“This will be complicated. This will be expensive,” Buckhorn said Friday. “But certainly it will be worth the effort.”

Buckhorn and Hagan met for about an hour at City Hall on Friday morning, and afterward shared some general thoughts on the city and county's potential Rays bid with media outlets.

Buckhorn said any future retractable-roof stadium likely would cost at least $600 million, and raising that much money would require several sources of money. The Rays would have to contribute a “significant” amount of that money, Buckhorn said, estimating that the team may be asked to put up $200 million to $300 million. Another source of potential funding includes an existing tax on downtown landowners through the city's Downtown Tampa Community Redevelopment Area program.

That tax generates up to $10 million to $14 million a year and could be tapped to pay for about $100 million in stadium bonds. Other sources of possible money include a stadium naming rights contract and a federal program called EB-5, in which wealthy immigrants essentially buy a visa by promising to invest $500,000 or $1 million in a job-creating project in the United States.

Both men insisted taxpayers will not bear most of the costs.

“There will never be another arrangement like Raymond James Stadium, where the taxpayer bears the burden,” Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn and Hagan plan to create a committee to meet with the Rays and ask about the team's stadium needs. They haven't determined the committee's makeup, but it could consist of Buckhorn and Hagan, as well as private businesspeople and members of the Tampa Sports Authority and Tampa Bay Partnership economic development group, Hagan said this week.

Community leaders repeatedly have urged the region to come together on the Rays stadium issue. However, when asked whether they would invite Pinellas County politicians to sit on the committee, to present a unified regional face to the team, both men were noncommittal.

Hagan said he didn't want the committee to have so many members that it became unwieldy. Buckhorn said leaders in Hillsborough know best what Tampa has to offer.

“If they're (the Rays) looking at sites in Hillsborough County, we are best suited to help them with that,” Buckhorn said.

Hagan said he expects to meet with Hillsborough County's attorney next week about the process of speaking with the Rays. Both men said they can't do anything until St. Petersburg officially amends the team's contract to allow it to look for stadium locations in Hillsborough.

msasso@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7865

Twitter: @msasso

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