Tampa, Florida -- The Orlando Rays? How does that sound? It's the buzz in Central Florida after Orlando's mayor told WFTV the major league team would be better off there than in Tampa Bay.
It's no secret Rays ownership doesn't like Tropicana Field, and Tampa makes a strong case for a new stadium in downtown near the water.
Orlando now, it seems, wants the Rays to be neighbors with the city's popular NBA franchise at the Amway Center. The host of "Central Florida Spotlight" pointed out, "Orlando has strongly supported the NBA. We cannot say that much for St. Petersburg. They've had some challenges drawing crowds for the Tampa Bay Rays."
Then, when asked about the Rays possibly leaving St. Pete, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said, "I would want to explore that opportunity. I don't know what they would want, probably a new stadium to move over here... I think Major League Baseball would do better in Orlando."
"He's the mayor of Orlando," responded Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "I would expect nothing less, but the reality is: Tampa Bay loves its Rays."
Buckhorn says he won't steal the Rays from St. Pete, but he'll sure as heck keep the team from moving up I-4 to Central Florida. "Tampa is a much larger market. It's a much more competitive market. I don't think Evan Longoria wants to compete with Mickey Mouse."
Orlando's mayor went on to say he would not elaborate on the case for his city's superiority because he's friends with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. He also said he would only consider pursuing the Rays if the Tampa Bay region failed in our efforts to keep the team in our area.
10 News also learned a multi-city chamber of commerce committee exploring ways to pay for a replacement for Tropicana Field has found some cash.
The committee is looking at both sides of the bay, not just St. Pete, and found the City of Tampa could chip in $100 million toward the cost of a new ballpark. But because of legal restrictions on that money, it would have to be spent in Downtown Tampa.
It's money that's currently paying for the Tampa Convention Center. Those payments are scheduled to stop in 2015 and that "Tax Increment Financing" money could theoretically be available for a new project like a $500 million stadium.
Mayor Buckhorn said TIF money is the only option because he will not commit taxpayer dollars. "In these economic times, I can't, I won't... ownership is going to have to put in a lot of money. There may have to be private equity money involved," Buckhorn told us. "If that day comes and if the city and the Rays part ways... in no uncertain terms, the best location for that stadium is in downtown Tampa."
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster declined to comment, but Foster is scheduled to be a part of the St. Petersburg City Council's workshop on Thursday to discuss the future of the Rays and Tropicana Field.