TAMPA, Fla. - With a long list of projects in need of local tax dollars and a poor track record of professional teams landing state stadium subsidies in recent years, Hillsborough County may be eyeing federal dollars to help get a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium built in, or near, Downtown Tampa.
Emails obtained by 10Investigates on Monday reveal recent separate meetings with a transportation consultant by both the Rays and Hillsborough County administrators.
Mark Aesch, CEO of TransPro Consulting, wrote the following to Hillsborough County CFO Bonnie Wise on August 2: "I've been interacting with (Rays Senior Vice President) Melanie (Lenz) and the team over at the Rays...and having discussions about how we have successfully used federal transportation dollars to create partnerships with community priorities (transit $$ into a Performing Arts Center - university, etc).
"In any case --- the folks at the Rays have been very interested," Aesch continued. "Melanie asked me to reach out to you - hence my having a great opportunity to do so! I am actually meeting w Mike and Chip on another topic on Monday August 7...so if perhaps late AM might work for you ---- would love to be together."
Ensuing emails showed Wise and Aesch arranged an afternoon meeting on Aug. 7.
The Rays declined comment on this story. Aesch did not respond to a Monday afternoon e-mail requesting comment.
A county spokesperson said Wise was the only employee available to comment on the matter, but would be unavailable until Wednesday.
However, the Rays have been outspoken about the importance of transit improvements to their future in Tampa Bay, making several political donations to local transit political campaigns over the years.
Details about how Hillsborough County would potentially fund a stadium - and how many tax dollars would be in-play - have been few and far between. Ken Hagan, a county commissioner and lead Rays negotiator, has avoided creating public record or making public comments regarding tax dollars discussed behind closed doors.
However, Rays owner Stu Sternberg recently donated $1,000 to Hagan's re-election campaign.
Hagan did not respond to a request for comment Monday.