The invaluable Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV (and the Shadow of the Stadium blog) has polled candidates for the Hillsborough County commission (that’s the county with Tampa in it) on where they stand on public funding for a new Rays stadium, and the survey says:
Sandy Murman (District 1 incumbent): Opposed to “a sales tax increase or use of general revenue” for a stadium, but not necessarily opposed to other forms of public funding.
Jeff Zampitella (District 1 challenger): Opposed to using general revenues, fine with hotel taxes, sales taxes, property tax breaks, or pretty much anything else.
Les Miller (District 3 incumbent, not being challenged): “We have to figure out a way to pay for it and not ask taxpayers to pay for a new stadium.”
Jim Norman (District 6 incumbent): Wouldn’t answer, but “has a long record of supporting stadium subsidies for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”
Tim Schock (District 6 challenger): Would likely support hotel taxes only for a stadium, wants the state to be on the hook for anything else.
John Dicks (District 6 challenger): Supports using both hotel taxes and a Community Redevelopment Area, which is essentially a TIF-style property tax kickback. Plus state money.
Pat Kemp (District 6 challenger): Would “likely oppose” general fund spending, but “might support” TIF money or parking revenues.
Tom Scott (District 6 challenger): Yes to using hotel taxes, no to anything else.
Brian Willis (District 6 challenger): Yes to hotel taxes, rental car fees, and state money, so long as it’s no more than half the total stadium cost.
Add it all up and hotel tax money sounds like a consensus pick — which would better news for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg if not for the fact that best estimates are that these would only be enough to pay off maybe $75 million in construction costs, which isn’t going to get very far toward building a whole new stadium. This sounds like it’s going to be one of those “collect pails of money from wherever you can find them” negotiations, which usually end up resorting to something totally crazy because it’s the only option that nobody outright hates.
It’s still very early, but all the “we have to get something done, we just need to figure out how to pay for it” talk is not a good starting point at all if you’re concerned about public subsidies. Add in that this is inevitably shaping up to be a Tampa-vs.-St. Petersburg bidding war — or at least a Hillsborough-vs.-Pinellas County bidding war — and it’s probably time to be very worried indeed. Winning the right to pit different localities against each other for the right to throw money at his team may have been the best deal that Sternberg ever made; St. Peterburg really should have asked for a bigger buyout, but they didn’t ask me, now did they?