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Investors with ties to baseball stadiums buy in Channel District

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 03:13 PM
TAMPA -

It may be coincidence, but investment funds affiliated with a Denver man who put together the Colorado Rockies baseball stadium deal have purchased land in downtown Tampa.

In fact, the Channel District land in question came up last year as a potential site for a future Tampa Bay Rays stadium.

The new landowners, though, advise not to jump to conclusions. They have no plans for any Major League Baseball stadium, but rather are eyeing the property for parking revenue in the short term and potential multifamily housing in the long term, a manager of the investment funds says.

"We're really looking at this as a parking play," said Michael Baker, who runs two limited liability companies called 514 Channelside Properties and Pinnacle Channelside Properties.

In December and January, those two companies bought roughly 7 acres across from the St. Pete Times Forum for around $9.2 million, county property records show.

The property sits between Nebraska Avenue and Caesar Street. One piece fronts Channelside Drive and houses the building that used to be Newk's Café; the other sits behind it and extends back to a ConAgra Foods manufacturing plant.

What's notable is the umbrella company behind the two LLCs, a Greenwood Village, Colo., firm called Gold Crown Management. A partner in Gold Crown Management is the well-known Denver businessman Raymond Baker, who is the father of the above-mentioned Michael Baker.

Raymond Baker has been involved in Colorado professional sports for years.

He is listed as a senior advisor to the Romani Group, a Denver-area company that manages sports stadium development projects around North America. Baker helped Romani Group on projects including the Denver Broncos' NFL stadium, Invesco Field at Mile High, said company Chief Executive Officer Tim Romani.

Baker also is a longtime chairman of two nonprofit stadium districts, the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District, which owns the Coors Field baseball stadium, and the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which owns Invesco Field.

As chairman of the baseball district, he helped orchestrate public financing for the Rockies' stadium. Last year, the Tribune interviewed Baker about how Denver was able to get taxpayers from a multicounty region to agree on a stadium tax.

"He was a major player and a major reason why the Rockies were created in Colorado and why Coors Field was built," Romani told the Tribune on Wednesday.

Given Baker's history with stadiums, a couple people familiar with downtown Tampa real estate have been wondering about his intentions.

A year ago, a land broker named Claire Clements made a splash locally by trying to tie up land in the same vicinity for a future Rays stadium. Her purchase options on the land have since expired.

However, Gold Crown Management's investment funds didn't buy the Tampa land with a ballpark in mind, Michael Baker said. And, no one has contacted the Rays, he said.

The company has been eyeing Tampa real estate because of the huge drop in prices recently. For now, it has contracted with Seven One Seven Parking Enterprises to operate pay lots on its property, and it's evaluating the land for multifamily housing, he said.

Romani, the Denver stadium project manager, confirmed that Romani Group is not part of the Tampa land purchase and is not part of any Tampa stadium effort. The Rays generally have declined comment on stadium matters and declined comment for this article.

The investment funds appear to be getting the land at a steal, at least compared with previous land prices. The funds paid just over $28 per square foot for the land, said Tim Wilmath, director of valuation for the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office. During the boom years, downtown land sometimes fetched more than $100 per square foot, he said.

msasso@tampatrib.com

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