TAMPA — The Marion County Commission delayed a vote Tuesday on a half-penny sales tax increase to build a stadium in Ocala for the New York Yankees minor league team.
The Tampa Yankees, a Class A-Advanced team that has called Tampa home since 1994, is set to play in Ocala in 2016, but only if Marion County builds a stadium. Preliminary plans call for a $45 million stadium-entertainment complex near Interstate 75 and State Road 200.
At a public hearing Tuesday, Marion County commissioners heard several speakers ask that the county look for some type of public-private partnership to help finance the stadium in lieu of the half-cent sales tax increase. Commissioners voted to study the issue and discuss it again Jan. 7.
“As to what other potential partnerships there might be, none of them were presented today,” BarbraHernandez, Marion County public information manager, said after Tuesday's decision to table the issue until Jan. 7.
Marion County has passed two similar tax referendums, according to Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn. In 2007, voters approved a tax increase to build a $37 million jail and judicial center that opened last February. And in the 1980s, a Penny for Parks sales tax increase passed. Both taxes included sunset provisions.
The New York Yankees have been contemplating moving their minor league team for years. The Tampa Yankees draw about 1,000 to 1,500 fans per game and might fare better in a community without all the sports franchises that call the Tampa-St. Petersburg area home.
Ocala, the county seat of Marion County, is a little less than 100 miles north of Tampa. The county has a population of 335,000.
If the minor league team leaves, George M. Steinbrenner Field still will be used during the summer months. Preliminary plans call for concerts and amateur baseball tournaments to be held at the field, located at Dale Mabry Highway and Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard. The Yankees last held concerts at the stadium, then called Legends Field, in 1996.