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Pasco County leaders still hopeful for future baseball complex, Rays spring training site

County leaders call Gov. Ron DeSantis' veto of $35 million in funding "a stumbling block, but not the end of the road."

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — Plans for a potential spring training home for the Tampa Bay Rays in Pasco County hit a snag with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto of funding for the project, but county leaders are holding hope that it’s not the end of the road.

With his signing of the so-called “Freedom First Budget,” DeSantis slashed $3 billion in proposed spending, including $35 million for what was described as a “publicly-owned” state-of-the-art baseball facility in Pasco County.

The project would include “several full-size practice fields including one stadium field with lighting and spectator facilities, team clubhouse and locker room facilities, indoor and outdoor training facilities, kitchen and dining facilities, player housing, and associated parking, roadway entrance/exit, stormwater, and other associated infrastructure improvements."

Though the Senate-approved funding request for a “sports training and youth tournament complex” doesn’t name the Rays explicitly, the details and discussions had the MLB team lining up to lease the development to use for spring training.

County leaders say they had discussions with the Rays and the funding request says the complex, “will be leased for use at various times throughout the year as part of a management and operating agreement.”

"I don't support giving taxpayer dollars to professional sports stadiums, period," DeSantis said while explaining why he vetoed the project.

Pasco County officials say they were a bit surprised by the governor’s veto.

“I think sports complexes are always a bit controversial. But we had heard that, that we thought we were in a good place. But sadly, we were vetoed,” Pasco County Board of Commissioners Chair Kathryn Starkey said.

However, Starkey added veto doesn’t equal the end of the road for the project

“We just have to see what the next step is. That would have been easier, of course with that 35 [million in funding] this year, but there's always next year. And I'm optimistic,” Starkey said.

In part because of the countywide tourism effort to become the “sports coast.”

“This just fits right in with what we envision for the feel and livability of our county,” Starkey continued. “It was more than just spring training. This was a full development player development complex that was going to be utilized—or will be utilized year-round.”

On Tuesday, The Pasco County Board of County Commissioners will hold their first meeting since the project’s funding was nixed, and though it may not be on the agenda, county leaders hope to keep discussions alive to make the project a reality.

“We understand with this veto, it may be a little bit harder, but we're still going to discuss with the Rays about our future,” Starkey said.

The Rays are not commenting at this time; they currently host their spring training in Port Charlotte.

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