St Pete City Council examines stadium proposal
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05/22/08 Seán Kinane and Joyce Newnam
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday

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The St. Pete City Council held a workshop this afternoon to discuss the proposed financing plan for the construction of a new waterfront stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays and the re-development of their current home.

In their financing plan unveiled last week, the Rays contend that the existing debt that is owed on Tropicana Field would be covered by the sale of the property to either of the two developers who have submitted proposals to purchase and redevelop the property.

Joe Zeoli, managing director of administration and finance for the City Development Administration, told the City Council how large the debt is anticipated to be by 2009 when the deal could happen.

In their proposals, the two developers, Hines and Archstone-Madison, have offered to purchase the Tropicana Field property for about the same amount as the outstanding debt. The existing debt service on the Tropicana Field consists of four different bond issues, including commitments by the state, the city, and Pinellas County to pay that debt, Zeoli said.

But Zeoli said the Rays’ financing plan does not including paying off the state’s portion of the Tropicana Field debt. The question still remains whether the state would continue to pay its $2-million per year obligation on Tropicana Field if it is torn down and a new stadium is built on the current site of Al Lang Field. Both the city and the county would each accrue at least $100-million in new debt if a waterfront stadium is built, Zeoli said, based on the Rays’ proposal of several funding sources.

The City Council still has questions about how many parking spots are available and how much revenue it could generate. Michael Kalt, the Rays’ senior vice president of development, attempted to answer some of those questions.

Council Member Wengay Newton wondered who would own the land under the new stadium if it is built. Mayor Rick Baker pointed out that there wasn’t a simple answer, but the county would own it.

The city would regain ownership if baseball is no longer played at the site, Zeoli said. Council Member Herb Polson wondered why the numbers he was hearing didn’t match up with what the Rays presented last week.

The answer, Zeoli said, is that the total cost of the project is much more than what the Rays presented last week once the costs of the Tropicana Field debt and construction of the waterfront stadium are combined.

Photo by Joyce Newnam/WMNF

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