TAMPA, Fla. -- Hillsborough County is no longer mediating the complicated conversations regarding a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium. The Tampa Sports Authority has assumed the contract of the outside attorney coordinating the talks.

That shift keeps controversial commissioner Ken Hagan at the center of the negotiations since he is the county’s lone representative on the sports authority board.

TIMELINE: A decade of the Stadium Saga

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill sent a memo to county commissioners Friday explaining “there have been no negotiations,” even though the county has just a month left on a three-year negotiating window with the Rays.

He said the attorney the county was hired to advise on the deal at the cost of a half-million dollars since 2014. Irwin Raij will now work under the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA).

However, the shift to the TSA raises new questions about the behind-closed-doors conversations taking place between public agencies and private developers.

In particular, TSA board member Andy Scaglione, whom 10Investigates exposed as one of the Ybor City landowners looking to profit off stadium development.

Last month, 10Investigates uncovered communications between Commissioner Hagan and the county’s outside counsel, where the two had private conversations about developers’ asking prices and terms for Ybor City land.

“Darryl has indicated he will agree to a 15-month term, but hasn't (sic) offered yet,” Raij texted Hagan in September 2017. “The ROW/sf issue is the one major issue outside of andys request for zoning protection. As an FYI, Andy wants in on row $$$.”

It appears Raij was talking to Hagan about the development plans of Andy Scaglione, who owns land in - and around - the proposed stadium footprint. The state’s sunshine law prohibits two members on the same board from privately coordinating on issues that might come before the board.

10Investigates reached out to Scaglione multiple times in the last month for comment; he did not provide any.

10Investigates requested documents of any recent recusals from the TSA; the agency responded, “No records exist, however, this information is located within minutes of each meeting.” 10Investigates could not find any recusals in 2018 meeting minutes.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the TSA finally provided 10News a conflict of interest disclosure filed by Scaglione last week, not yet available through meeting minutes.

He filed the form Nov. 26, 2018, only after 10Investigates identified his 2017 conversations with the county about stadium land. A TSA spokesman says Scaglione has now recused himself from future actions regarding the Ybor stadium.

How Hillsborough wants to pay for the stadium

Merrill added the stadium update to Wednesday’s commission agenda, and reiterated a second time in his memo to commissioners, “there have been no negotiations to date of any possible stadium deal framework…the Rays have yet to consider and accept a deal framework as a basis to begin negotiations.”

He also laid out a “feasible framework” for what is expected to be an $892 million stadium:

  • The Rays would bear 50% of the cost for the acquisition of land and construction of a stadium.
  • The remaining 50% funding would come from some, or all, of the following sources: private investment via an Opportunity Zone Fund; private investment by Ybor landowners via a Community Development District(s), authorized by the City of Tampa; and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) property tax revenues.
  • Construction cost overruns would be borne by the Rays.
  • Depending on results of future negotiations with private investors, a future guarantee provided jointly by the Rays, City of Tampa and County (estimated to be less than $50 million in total) may be necessary. Such a guarantee, if called upon, would be reimbursable to the Rays, City and County.
  • The Rays would be required to make annual rent payments.
  • The Rays would be required to fully fund and maintain reserves for stadium repairs and maintenance, as well as for future capital improvements to the Stadium.
  • The Rays stadium would be immune from property taxes, as is the case with Raymond James Stadium, Amalie Arena, and Steinbrenner Field (except for the private portions of the Stadium controlled by the Rays).

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Merrill said the delay in negotiating a deal was due to federal Opportunity Zone rules only being finalized in October. He acknowledged his framework is just a starting point for negotiations that he hoped would be finalized by April 30, 2019.

Commissioners will get a chance to ask questions of Merrill Wednesday morning, but Commissioner Hagan is not expected to be at the meeting. He is reportedly traveling to New York City instead.

The commission has only met once since the election, an organizational meeting in which committee appointments were assigned.

Hagan requested an assignment to the Tampa Sports Authority again and his fellow commissioners obliged. The agency has oversight of numerous Hillsborough public sports venues, including Raymond James Stadium and Steinbrenner Field.

Wednesday’s county commission meeting begins at 9 a.m.

Have any inside information to share with 10Investigates' Noah Pransky? Send your story tips confidentially to Noah on Facebook or via email: npransky@wtsp.com.

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