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Hagan: Funding Rays' Tampa stadium will be 'uphill battle'

Four of Hillsborough County's seven commissioners voiced opposition to using public tax dollars to finance a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, an effort commissioner Ken Hagan said will be challenging to pay for.
Credit: Mark Bergin, WTSP
Crews work to prepare Tropicana Field ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays' game against the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 12, 2017.

TAMPA, Fla. - Four of Hillsborough County's seven commissioners voiced opposition to using public tax dollars to finance a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium, an effort commissioner Ken Hagan said will be challenging to pay for.

"I want to be crystal clear, (financing) will be an uphill battle," said Hagan, who is leading the effort, during Wednesday's commissioner meeting. "But I ask, let the process play out and see if we can come up with a plan."

Wednesday's meeting was the first since Hagan announced a proposed 14-acre location in the Channel District - Ybor City area for a new stadium, a move that has not been approved by the Rays.

The announcement caught many off guard, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. who wondered where hundreds of millions will come from to build the facility. He expects the final project to have a small footprint while surrounded by private development.

Hagan defended his announcement during Wednesday's meeting.

"A reporter somehow got wind of it and I wanted to make sure it was properly rolled out," he said. "I contacted the Rays...but inadvertently did not give the mayor a heads up. I should have done that. But the mayor and city have known about this location as long as I have."

Hagan has avoided questions regarding conducting county business in private. In a recent exchange, 10Investigates reporter Noah Pransky referenced documents he had that Hagan did not turn over as part of a public records request:

Hagan described the unapproved project as a "private-sector initiative" that will have strong corporate support.

"I expect the Rays to (soon) acknowledge the (Ybor City) site is their preferred site," he said.

Many questions remain

Most questions regarding the plan came from Hagan's fellow commissioners.

Pat Kemp took issue with Hagan being the sole lead in negotiating with the Rays, adding that it cuts the other six commissioners out of the process.

Kemp's motion to have County Administrator Mike Merrill share negotiation responsibilities with Hagan was approved.

"This stadium decision is very complex...with big financial implication to county taxpayers," she said.

Following the meeting, Les Miller tweeted this to the Shadow of Stadium Twitter account, which is managed by 10Investigates reporter Noah Pransky and solely focuses on the Rays' stadium effort:

I am not going to approve public funding going toward a new #Rays stadium.

— Shadow of Stadium (@StadiumShadow) November 15, 2017

Board Chairman Stacy White, who also voiced opposition to using tax dollars, suggested not even community redevelopment area (CRA) dollars should fund the project. Such funds are supposed to be used for special projects designed to cure blighted areas.

When White asked why stadium negotiations aren't done in public, Merrill said the national trend of private dollars supporting development necessitates privacy.

"The county administrator and county attorney are at every meeting we have," Hagan added.

Sandra Murman said she likes having the Rays relocate to Tampa but opposed using tax dollars to do so.

"Having a third sports team in this community...if you read any research on this anywhere...it really takes your community to the next level," she said.

Here's more on the various ways the public may end up paying for at least part of a new Rays stadium, even with private financing.

Follow Noah Pransky's Shadow of Stadium blog for the latest on dealings involving the Rays' potential relocation to Tampa.

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