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Friday, Jul 25, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Buckhorn legacy could include Rays stadium

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If Bob Buckhorn wants something badly enough, he usually gets it.

It’s also no secret Tampa’s popular and perpetual-motion mayor would like the Rays to one day play in a new downtown stadium. He said as much when I reached him Wednesday.

So when do we get started with construction?

After all, Buckhorn’s counterpart in St. Petersburg said it’s OK with him for the Rays to look at sites in Tampa.

Buckhorn called that “long overdue and very welcome,” but the stadium fun isn’t even close to starting.

“Maybe five or six years,” he said, when I asked for a best guess on the soonest we can hear “play ball” (or, well, “buy tickets”) in a new downtown ball yard.

I’m guessing longer than that.

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Despite the statement of compromise by St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster earlier this week, nothing happens in Tampa until the Rays get something in writing from St. Petersburg allowing them to look outside Pinellas County.

“Until we get that legal agreement, nothing has changed,” Buckhorn said.

Let’s assume St. Pete officials give the Rays permission to look around. A fancy new ball yard will cost probably $600 million, give or take a luxury suite. Have fun trying to put that financing package together, even if you get the Rays to pay $200 million or more toward the cost.

Buckhorn mentioned the Community Redevelopment Area, a special taxing district that has been around for about 30 years. It is coming up for renewal soon by the Hillsborough County Commission.

“It’s an existing revenue source that has to be spent in downtown Tampa,” Buckhorn said.

It’s worth about $100 million over 30 years, assuming the commission renews it. Buckhorn will work closely with Commission Chairman Ken Hagan on that one.

Lots of hands are already grabbing for that pot of dough and more will, but that’s a battle for another day.

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Buckhorn mentioned a couple potential spots — land that the Lightning’s Jeff Vinik owns adjacent to the Forum, or the Section 8 apartment complex at Nuccio and Nebraska. Traffic could be a significant problem. Just imagine the gridlock when the Rays and Lightning are playing and something is going on at the convention center.

“And I know this not Major League Baseball’s concern, but it’s my concern as mayor to get the maximum benefit from something like this. I’m talking residential development, retail, hotels and other things that would benefit the urban core,” Buckhorn said.

Stadium projects have changed since the Bucs got that taxpayer-funded ATM known as Raymond James Stadium. There will be no more sweetheart deals like that one. But do this right and it could change downtown Tampa forever.

It might also cement the legacy of a Tampa mayor who has an appetite for winning.

Now, sit back and relax.

This could take a while.

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