Another possible Tampa Bay Rays stadium site has been added to the long list being explored by Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which I suppose is news if you’re keeping score at home. This one is in St. Petersburg on the bay near the Gandy Bridge to Tampa, and it’s in a flood zone and would need lots of water and sewer lines run and road improvements, but here, let the Tampa Bay Times explain why they think it’s promising:
At 39 acres, it’s large enough for a stadium and all the extras the Rays envision. It’s owned by a local couple who wants to sell, which could simplify negotiations. The nearby roads are already slated for substantial improvements, easing access to the somewhat isolated property. It’s a natural stop for the proposed Tampa to St. Petersburg ferry, if that initiative ever materializes. It’s also in a county that has already reserved bed tax money for a new ballpark.
Wait, say that last part again? Pinellas County has set aside hotel tax money for a new Rays stadium? When did that happen? (Scrolls through list of Rays posts, Googles.) Okay, there’s this from one year ago:
Pinellas County commissioners agreed Tuesday to add a sixth cent to the so-called tourist bed tax but now have to decide what to do with the money.
The increased tax on nightly hotel stays takes effect Jan. 1 and will add about $7 million a year to the county’s tourist tax collections. In addition, another $7 million will be available after the bonds used to build Tropicana Field are paid off in September.
That’s not exactly “reserved,” especially since there are other projects that would like to use the same tax money, but it is “available,” I suppose. The Times appears to be moving the goalposts a little, though, to where the $14 million is considered set aside for the Rays. That would be enough to pay off maybe $200 million or so in construction costs, which while it would still leave a long way to go towards full funding, would be an awfully nice start for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg — and a rather large chunk of change for Pinellas residents to dedicate to a private baseball stadium, especially when the team is almost certainly going to stay in the metro area regardless.
Either way, it seems like Sternberg is playing this exactly right in terms of maximizing his leverage: By considering every site under the sun, he can get Tampa, St. Pete, and the two counties bidding against each other, and right now Pinellas’ advantage is that it has more available hotel tax money to burn than Hillsborough. Whether you consider getting a stadium on your side of the bay by throwing more public money at it “winning” is another story entirely.