Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill has declared that it’s time for Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to declare whether he’ll accept the county’s plans for financing a new stadium:
“Our mission was to build a framework for a deal and this is the best we could come up with. We really need to hear from the Rays.”
If you weren’t aware there was any “framework” for a Rays stadium deal, this apparently happened on Friday, when Merrill sent a memo to the county commission outlining some extremely general terms. As reported by the Tampa Bay Times:
It says the Rays, the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County may each have to put up a reimbursable guarantee not to exceed $50 million.
The team would be required to pay for any construction cost overruns and to make annual rent payments. The Rays would also have to pick up the tab for stadium repairs, maintenance and future ballpark upgrades.
Like Raymond James Stadium, Amalie Arena, and Steinbrenner Field, the memo states, the baseball stadium would not be subject to property taxes except for private sections controlled by the Rays.
Those are all interesting pieces, but the memo entirely leaves out the biggest elephants in the room, which are who will pay how much toward the stadium’s construction cost, how much the team’s rent would be, and how the team and public would split any naming rights and other revenues from the venue. Without establishing those, it’s impossible to know how good a deal this would be for the Rays and for Tampa residents — and, honestly, impossible for Sternberg to say whether this is a framework that would work for him, though I suppose he could always say, “Sure, I’ll pay cost overruns,” figuring if he gets enough up-front cash and estimates high enough on the initial price tag he can cover any unexpected expenses.
Ken Hagan, the county commissioner who’s taken the lead in Rays negotiations, says he hopes for an actual term sheet spelling out funding to be ready by March. He also said that “it’s always been assumed the team would have to invest at least half of the cost,” though apparently “the team” could include private investors, and maybe naming rights money could count toward the “private” half, and really we don’t know enough about the missing pieces in any deal to tell what the public statements so far do mean in terms of who’ll pay for what.
Meanwhile, Hagan is threatening to sue TV station WTSP for reporting how Hagan’s maps of the proposed stadium site made their way to a Hagan-connected developer before the rest of the county commission even saw them, allowing him to start buying up properties in advance of the county securing the land. Hagan says he didn’t directly give the developer the maps; from the sound of things, the maps were actually passed along either by the Rays or by Irwin Raij, the county’s outside consultant.
Oh, and who’s set to be negotiating the Rays deal for the public?
Hillsborough leaders plan to create a negotiating team that will include: County Commissioner Ken Hagan, the county’s designated point person on a new stadium deal; Tampa Sports Authority President and CEO Eric Hart; a representative from the city of Tampa; and New York attorney Irwin Raij, who specializes in stadium deals.
This is going to go just great!