No one knows yet how to pay for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays or where to build one.
But a big chunk of the money – up to $100 million – theoretically could come from money now going to the Tampa Convention Center. That is, assuming the ballpark is built in Tampa.
In recent months, a group formed by the Tampa and St. Petersburg chambers of commerce has been researching how to pay for a new Rays ballpark. The group, called the Baseball Stadium Finance Caucus, hopes to have some options for the community to mull over by early next year.
The caucus would need some politician to champion its ideas, because it doesn't have the power to pull off its ideas independently.
One idea that is gaining steam is taking an existing tax and redirecting it to a new stadium. For example, Tampa pays about $13.5 million per year to pay off the convention center's bonds. The money technically comes from a special downtown property tax district that uses "tax increment financing."
Some of the tax money raised in the downtown district is funneled back into the area to pay for development projects.
In 2015, Tampa Convention Center bonds will be paid off and the tax money, hypothetically, could be put toward a new downtown stadium, said Bob McDonaugh, an urban development manager for Tampa. The tax money would require the stadium be built downtown, in the tax district.
If the city committed those tax dollars to a new stadium, it might be able to raise $80 million to $100 million through a bond issue, McDonaugh said Wednesday, relating what he told the chamber baseball caucus recently. That probably would cover one-fifth or one-sixth of the cost of a new stadium, which could run up to $600 million.
There are a lot of "ifs" involved in the idea. First, Hillsborough County would have to approve it. Second, the city only gave the chamber caucus an estimate of how much money could be available. It didn't say the city actually will commit the money, McDonaugh said.
"It was just conjecture," McDonaugh said. "It was not, 'Hey, is the city ready to sign up?' It was a math exercise."
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said he doesn't want to get involved in the standoff between the Rays and St. Petersburg over the team's future. However, he has said he'd like to see a new stadium in downtown Tampa if the team and St. Petersburg can't reach an agreement.
On Wednesday, Buckhorn reiterated that the city isn't committing to anything by talking with the chamber group.
"I haven't made a decision. We're not even close to a decision," he said.
Aside from the convention center money, Tampa theoretically could commit other money to a new ballpark, McDonaugh said, quoting the city's chief financial officer. The city has the ability to issue new bonds, based on its debt levels and credit rating. However, the city hasn't said it actually would commit any money, McDonaugh said.
The chamber caucus has already met with officials in Hillsborough County and plans to meet with officials in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County about how much money could be available for a stadium, said Mark Wimberly, co-chair of the chamber caucus.