PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida - The Rays' Stadium Saga may continue to drag on through another summer, but if other stadium stalemates are any indication, progress could be just an election away.
The Rays – and many fans – have expressed a desire for a new, centrally-located stadium somewhere in Tampa Bay. But with St. Petersburg owning exclusive negotiating rights with the team through 2027, Pinellas County's Board of County Commissioners' (BOCC) attempts to get involved have been sidelined.
Yet the next few years could prove to be important for the conversation, so 10 News reached out to every Pinellas BOCC candidate ahead of the August primary election to see where he or she stood on the topic of building the Rays a new stadium.
* = incumbent
Pat Gerard (D) – A self-professed "huge" Rays fan, Gerard says she has no questions about the team's economic impact: "I'd hate to see (the Rays) leave the county, but we should do anything we can do to keep them in the area." She even said she might be open to a multi-county tax as long as the contributions were minimum. But Gerard also said Pinellas bed tax dollars may ultimately be better-spent on tourism drivers such as arts or a new port.
Ed Hooper (R) – Hooper, a term-limited state representative, says he would like to see the county commission continue its patient approach with how St. Petersburg is handling the Stadium Saga. However, he is open to using (and even increasing) bed taxes to pay for a new Pinellas stadium, since it would tax tourists more than residents. Hooper says, above all else, the region needs to make sure the Rays have a new home somewhere in Tampa Bay, because he's "yet to meet anyone who's celebrated losing a baseball team (to another city). When you lose them, they don't come back."
Norm Roche* (R) – The incumbent is a fiscal conservative who says "the days of taxpayer-funded stadiums for private ventures have come to an end," but didn't completely close the door on public dollars going to a Rays facility; he said he could support bed tax subsidies for a stadium if they were approved by voter referendum. Roche has suggested the county redirect bed tax money to other parks, and adds in 2014 that he'd rather the money go to smaller, flexible projects that drive tourism than big bonding projects like a stadium. He also opposes raising the tax an extra penny unless it's necessary to increase beach renourishment funding.
Mark Weinkrantz (D)– Weinkrantz said the county should be "totally engaged in all discussions related to a new Rays stadium." And while he is also open to raising the bed tax from 5 cents to 6 cents, Weinkrantz also indicated the county's top priorities should be beach renourishment and a county-level arts council. He said the Rays' needs should be explored, but they haven't provided enough information yet as to their stadium, location, or financing needs.
Dave Eggers (R)– Eggers says MLB and spring training stadiums are what the bed tax collections are for, and supports a regional collaboration between several counties to make a new Rays venue a reality. His idea would be for "equity participation by the team and the various counties in return for economic development rights, cost sharing and return on invested dollars. This process reduces risk and capital outlay for any one community." However, he also says it may be unlikely based on previous frustrations with Hillsborough County officials (specifically, HART).
Tim Keffalas (R) – Saying the Rays are important to local businesses, Keffalas says the county needs to be very involved in discussing the team's future. However, he also points the finger at the team: "it is time for the ownership to commit to staying or leaving." Keffalas wants the county to be able to spend its bed tax dollars on economic drivers, so if not the Rays, then on Blue Jays spring training facilities, other capital projects, and possibly even renovations of Tropicana Field into a shopping/entertainment facility once the Rays leave.
Wanda Kimsey (R)– Citing the Rays' lack of an "ask" so far, Kimsey says its hard to tell how many bed tax dollars the team ultimately may look for. But if the Rays ever put a proposal on the table, she says she may support a long-term commitment from the county. Kimsey also wants to see bed tax revenues committed to advertising, sports, arts, and beaches.
Macho Liberti (R)– The county has a role in the Rays stadium discussions, says Liberti, but not if it includes new taxes (unless approved by voters). He says matching the current levels of financial support for the Rays is the most Pinellas County should commit to the future. He expressed concern for beach renourishment funding and says that should remain the county's top priority with bed tax revenues, followed by advertising programs and the feasibility of a new port.
Peter Nehr (R) – A former state representative, Nehr says he's open to the discussion of a new Rays stadium, but "at this time," opposes using bed tax revenues to fund it. He says lowering the bed tax is a better option, or using the available revenues to advertise the county more.
Jim Ronecker (R)– Did not respond to requests for comment.
Johnny Johnson (R) – Did not respond to requests for comment.
Carl Folkman (NPA) – Saying the county "needs to respect the involvement of the city of St. Petersburg" and "not overstep the boundary," Folkman supports the Pinellas commission's current path. However, he doesn't support bed taxes going to a new Rays stadium.
Marcus Harrison (NPA) – Did not respond to requests for comment.
John Morroni* (R) – The District 6 incumbent says the Rays have never communicated well with the county and he's not sure a new stadium would be prudent or necessary. While Morroni says he would hate to lose the team, he couldn't see future Pinellas Co. bed taxes committed to a team that doesn't even draw when it's winning. The commissioner supports the Tourist Development Council's new "heads-in-beds" economic criteria for determining which projects get bed tax dollars, and he says he may support raising the tax from five cents to six cents. But his "fix" for the Rays' situation is for the team to talk less about relocation and more about commitment to a specific area.
Tom Rask (R) – The challenger also opposes future county dollars going to the Rays, but said he could support small tourist tax expenditures for things like stadium site surveys. "People don't want their tax dollars used for a stadium," Rask said, adding the county shouldn't favor one form of entertainment (like baseball) over another. He said he would rather the county spend its bed tax dollars on beaches. And leftover funds should go to "great facilities" so tourists "go home and (rave) about the experience."