10Investigates: Secret Rays stadium talks

10Investigates wants to know why talks about the Rays stadium are happening in secret.

TAMPA, Florida - Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the officials in talks with the Rays about a potential new stadium in Hillsborough County are going out of their way to avoid creating public records and giving notice of their meetings with the team for good reason.

"Anytime you start talking real estate and locations, the price goes up," Buckhorn said, adding that the group has not spent much time yet addressing perhaps the biggest challenge of a Tampa stadium: how to pay for it.

FACEBOOK: Entire exchange with Mayor Buckhorn

On Monday, the mayor met with the Rays and several other local leaders, including Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, to discuss a series of possible stadium locations on Tampa's side of the bay.  That included Downtown Tampa and West Shore, but not the county fairgrounds, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

But on the mayor's weekly calendar, which typically provides local reporters the topics and locations of the mayor's meetings, the morning rendezvous with the Rays was simply listed as "Ken Hagan," with the location and meeting topic omitted.

And months' worth of public record requests to both Hagan and Buckhorn have come up empty; the public officials attending the meeting claim they don't have a single document, email, or text message pertaining to their behind-closed-door discussions, which could ultimately cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

A new stadium is expected to cost at least $500 million with taxpayers likely called on to fund a significant portion of the construction and infrastructure.  And even though transparency has been sacrificed in the process so far, Buckhorn and Hagan do not appear to be violating any laws by keeping the meetings - and details - private at this time.

While Pinellas County has robust tourist tax revenues, which could potentially bond upwards of $200 million in stadium construction, Hillsborough County's available tourist tax revenues would likely bond no more than $75 million. Additional revenues, such as a rental car tax, have been discussed but are considered neither particularly lucrative nor politically popular.

"I think all of us ... at least on the public side ... are trying to find a way to (finance a ballpark) without the way that Raymond James was publicly financed," Buckhorn said. "I don't think a referendum would pass, so we will have to look at other things.

"We're going to have to look at bed tax, we're going to have to look at potentially rental car surcharges ... to the extent that we can place the burden on tourists, that would be ideal. But at this point, we don't know. It's going to be expensive, and if you asked me today how we would pay for it, I couldn't tell you."

Buckhorn said the Hillsborough group's next meeting with the Rays will be in October. Hagan didn't return requests for comment Tuesday.

Find 10Investigates' Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips confidentially to npransky@wtsp.com.


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