Plan in place for financing Rays new park

Rays have financing set for park

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays presented a preliminary financing plan to the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday that laid out their ideas for how to pay for the proposed $450 million waterfront ballpark at the current site of historic Al Lang Field.

The 34,000-seat, retractable-roof ballpark would open for the 2012 season if approved by the City Council, the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners and St. Petersburg residents.

Thursday "was a very good start," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "The council workers seemed engaged and receptive and open minded to what is a very complicated project. And they seemed to begin the dialogue we need to determine whether this is something that works for all of us."

The financing concept presented by Silverman and Michael Kalt, Rays senior vice president, went as follows:

Step one would be to use the money from the sale of Tropicana Field ($70 million) to pay off all of the remaining city and county debt on Tropicana Field; under this plan that debt would be retired seven years early.

Step two would be to put the entire Tropicana Field site -- more than 85 acres dedicated to baseball downtown -- back on the tax rolls, working immediately for taxpayers, and generating more money than is required to finance the ballpark.

And the final step would be financing the ballpark through a private contribution by the Rays (approximately $150 million), including any cost overruns; ballpark-generated revenues from parking ($55 million); and the use and extension of annual city and county funds currently pledged to Tropicana Field.

The plan limits the risk to the city and county by immediately paying off the Tropicana Field debt, then not requiring any additional dollars beyond what had already been committed to Tropicana Field from the city or county until 2017.

The majority of the public funding sources beginning in 2017 would come from an extension of the tourist tax, funds that come primarily from out-of-state visitors and which cannot be used for public services. The remainder of the public funds would be about $75 million of the ballpark's cost, with the tax dollars created directly from the redevelopment of Tropicana Field estimated to significantly exceed that figure.

The two downtown development projects would generate an estimated 1 billion dollars in new tax receipts over the next 35 years while simultaneously producing over 10,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent jobs.

"This is about much more than just building a ballpark. It's about contributing to the future of our community," said Silverman, "That's why it was so important that this financing plan generate critically needed new money to help our local governments maintain public services."

After the Rays' presentation, several councilmen and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker complimented the Rays for being in first place and for the organization's commitment to St. Petersburg.

"We believe this is a compelling start," Silverman said. "And the next several days and weeks will determine the progress on this front and we'll also continue to look for answers and solutions to our parking and environmental concerns.

"It's important that the voters of St. Petersburg have all the information they need by November to make an informed vote."

The next big date on the calendar will be June 5, which is the date the City Council needs to begin the process of putting a referendum on the ballot for November.

"Technically, the referendum will be about the use of waterfront property and transferring [city land] to the county," Silverman said. "But practically, the community is getting the opportunity to vote on this proposal, the redevelopment of Tropicana Field and the construction of the new ballpark."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.