Monday, October 16, 2017

Ken Hagan Does Not Like Tough Questions

Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan is privately negotiating with the Tampa Bay Rays for a potential new stadium near Ybor City.  And even it seems the proposed stadium would include hundreds of millions of public tax dollars, Hagan has yet to reveal how many and how it would be funded.  He also is taking campaign contributions from one of the men reportedly involved in selling the county land.

He also refuses to talk about it:

For the full investigation and background, visit

RELATED: March 2017 - Ken Hagan Does Not Like This Blog

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rays Stadium Saga: Cash for Kriseman, Latvala...But Not Tampa

Lots of interesting nuggets to share on the Rays' Stadium Saga...
  1. Batting leadoff: you saw me tweet about the latest donations to State Senator/gubernatorial hopeful Jack Latvala, including the Tampa Bay Rays & Miami Dolphins.
  2. Why do pro teams love Latvala?  In addition to his attempts to provide them stadium subsidies, he's also the biggest thing standing in the way of a House push to ban public land giveaways for new stadiums in Florida.  A bill attempting to ban the practice raced through the House committee stage already and will likely get approved by the chamber in January. But approval by the Senate or governor is much less likely.
  3. Meanwhile, locally, despite all the talk that St. Pete and Tampa are working together on things like landing Amazon's HQ2, they continue to play tug-of-war against each other on a new home for the Rays.
  4. In fact, here's another good article about how the two sides of the Bay are competing over another sports team. It's from 2010. And nothing's really changed since then.
  5. Remember, the more subsidy-friendly officials that compete over the Rays, the more the team stands to benefit from a tug-of-war.  Which may explain why Rick Kriseman's PAC just got another $50k from the Rays, bringing his 2017 campaign haul to over $80k.
  6. Speaking of mayors, the Tampa Bay Business Journal (subscription required) spoke to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn about his Rays' stadium conversations, with the mayor seemingly distant from his once-aggressive push to bring the team downtownTBBJ reports six years into his term, the mayor still doesn't know how to pay for a new Rays stadium, other than possibly the county's CIT tax, which could be renewed (via referendum)...but the funds are spoken for through 2026, and an extension may also be needed for Bucs & Lightning stadiums by the time those leases expire in 2027.
  7. And finally, Forbes' Maury Brown reports TV ratings remain strong across MLB, including here in Tampa Bay, where the Rays remained the No. 1 cable program in the market, even though they slipped 5% from last year's viewership numbers.  They were only 18th in the league, by ratings points, but they averaged 52,000 viewers per night, according to Neilson.  There should still be good money in a new cable deal for the Rays, but it seems they chose to gamble with a short extension with Fox Sports several years ago.  If they missed the cable rights bubble, and get screwed because of their timing, it will be because of a failed business risk and not the failure of their fans to tune in.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

2017 Rays Attendance Post-Mortem

With the 2017 season now in the books, my annual Tropicana Field attendance debrief may as well be regurgitated from last year...

Once again, the Rays finish in the MLB cellar, drawing an average of 15,637 fans per game - a drop of 1.5% from last year, but a little better than the 2015 mark of 15,403. That makes six straight years the team finished 30th out of 30 teams.

For once, the Rays had an exciting offense on top of their typical pitching standouts, but even without NHL playoffs to compete with, just couldn't draw.

This blog has long covered the issues affecting Rays' attendance, from the front office's self-fulfilling prophecy, the team's failure to be "cool," and of course, location location location.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Marc Topkin, "given the performance of the team, I would have anticipated (attendance) to be better. Where we were and how we were playing, it could have only been better. We've heard it before, and I've talked to the players, it clearly affects the performance on the field."

That's kind of a stretch. In fact, I love this response from blogger @TBBaseballMkt:
But have no fear! The end of the baseball season simply means the start of the baseball stadium speculation season!  Topkin asked Sternberg about that too:
With the season ending, how soon could there be an announcement of a stadium site selection, given the reported Ybor City option?
We're ready. Whenever Hillsborough or Tampa make their pitch, we're ready. We've worked with them a bunch, and we're waiting to hear the pitch. There's nothing more for me to do at this point.
Maybe we'll finally get to hear all the taxpayer subsidies our elected leaders have been offering up behind closed doors the last few years.

Here are a few more more question/answers for your enjoyment:
What is the status of a new TV contract?
If it'll even be a contract - we might end up starting a network at some point. When the time comes and we can negotiate a TV contract there will be a lot of parties to talk to. .. Unfortunately it's not the environment for that given what's gone on with cord-cutting and the value of cable, so I don't expect it or anticipate it to be nirvana. Ideally when and if something gets done it could move the needle. By the same token it might end up being less than where we are now. It's way down the road (and he won't say when).

How much did the hurricane rescheduling and fallout impact the team financially as you had to move three Yankees game to New York and then had lesser than expected crows for the Red Sox and Cubs games?
Those eight games, while they were 10 percent of our schedule, probably made up 20-25 percent of our revenue.
Did you get revenue from the three games moved to Citi Field?
We'll get revenue but the games are very expensive to put on, and they were attended, but not like 40,000, 50,000 people showing up, it was a $25 set price. And we had to house and transport people for four extra days on the road in New York. And a lot of other expense like overtime (for staff at the Trop) and buttoning the place up and some damage to the stadium. All in all, it was a minus-minus-minus. However, having said that, we're incredibly fortunate for what could have been.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Few Items Worth Reading...

It's always easy for guys who aren't going to pay for a stadium to suggest someone should buy the Rays a new stadium...which Joe Maddon did this past week, as Chris Archer expressed his displeasure with the home crowd.

It wasn't the first time...but a couple columns the reactions prompted are among the Sunday Night reading list links worth a few minutes of your time:
  1. Tom Jones: Tampa Bay Just Doesn't Have Enough Tampa Bay Sports Fans (he's right)
  2. Joe Henderson: Tampa is a Better Location for a New Rays Stadium (obviously...except the financing)
  3. Martin Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person (true - far fewer than 20,000 butts in seats)
  4. Twitter: "USF Crowd Shots" account (USF will say a new stadium will fix this, but tough to commit to new stadium without crowds)
  5. Robert Trigaux: Tampa Bay household income tops $50,000 (that's 25th out of 25 major US cities, and it shows how the market gets stretched thin for entertainment dollars)

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Buccaneers Now Worth $2 Billion

The latest Forbes NFL valuations have the Bucs worth an estimated $1.98 billion, up 10% from the same time last year. However, that's only good for 28th out of 32 teams.

The Cowboys are once again the league's most-valuable team and the world's most valuable sports franchise, worth an estimated $4.8 billion.

Forbes reports "new and renovated stadiums are adding to team coffers," with the Vikings enjoying $60 million in new revenue annually at their new stadium, and the Falcons' value jumping 19% to $2.48 billion, thanks to over $900 million in sponsorship commitments at their new stadium.

And, "NFL teams are also set for a windfall from the relocations of the Rams and Chargers to Los Angeles, plus the Raiders expected move to Las Vegas in 2019 or 2020. The 29 non-moving teams will divvy up $1.65 billion with the Chargers and Rams on the hook for a $650 million fee and the Raiders at $350 million. The moving teams will make the payments over 10 years starting in 2019."

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UPDATED: In Darkness of Irma Disaster, Sarasota Approved Braves Spring Training Stadium

While the majority of their residents were in the dark two days after Hurricane Irma blew through, Sarasota County Commissioners braved the elements and rushed to approve a new Braves spring training stadium, predominately funded by public tax dollars. Why do I say "rushed?" Well, according to my public records request from about a week before the storm, no agreement existed yet - "the lawyers are still talking about it."

I've previously written how the dealings had been plagued by county staffers' battles with transparency, bogus economic impact claims, and other red flags during negotiations.  Fortunately, some of my warnings were heeded, but there are still items of concern that were glossed over in the rush to get a deal done, including long-term stadium maintenance, which has cost the county unexpected dollars in their dealings with the Orioles' spring training complex (you'd think they'd have learned a lesson).

The unanimous vote from county commissioners last Wednesday sets up a final vote in North Port today.

UPDATE: North Port city commissioners approved the deal, 3-2, only after a pair of commissioners voiced loud displeasure over the negotiating process ("Every single document we’ve received has been, ‘Your back’s against the wall, you better sign this or else.’ It’s a disservice to this community") and concern over the multi-purpose fields that were promised for public use. But the city attorney told commissioners they must agree to the deal without amendment.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports the project will now surpass $100 million, although the direct taxpayer contribution will remain in the $50 million range.  The Braves will receive additional subsidies in the form of free rent and certain tax breaks; the team will instead contribute an annual payment toward $37.5 million in construction bonds.

The Braves will also reportedly keep proceeds from the naming rights of the public facility, which they can use to further offset construction costs.

A groundbreaking will reportedly take place next month, with the Braves looking to relocate to the new West Villages/North Port complex in Spring 2019.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Adding to the Ybor City Stadium Rumor Mill: Developer Gives Big to Ken Hagan

The guy who has emerged as one of the single-biggest property owners/developers in Ybor City just gave a bunch of big campaign checks to the guy who is single-handedly negotiating a possible Rays move to a yet-to-be-announced site in Tampa.

Companies controlled by Darryl Shaw, who has been dubbed "Ybor's big new (development) player," gave $5,000 to Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan last month, according to campaign finance reports. Shaw's wife and a company she controls also each chipped in $1,000, the maximum-allowable donation for the 2018 election.

RELATED: Rays, Hagan Continue to Sweep Funding Conversations Under Rug, Make Mockery of Transparency Promises

Shaw is far from Hagan's only high-profile donor, but it only adds speculation that Hagan may be cooking up some sort of county-subsidized plan with Shaw and the Rays - potentially involving land giveaways or a land swap?

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Friday, September 1, 2017

FSU Professor at Center of Academics Scandal is Same Hospitality Professor Busted for Inflated Economic Impact Reports

The man at the center of a 2013 academics scandal at Florida State University, just exposed Friday by the New York Times, is the same hospitality professor exposed by WTSP in April as passing himself off an economist while he conducted dozens of economic impact studies for parties seeking tax dollars for sports-related projects, including Major League Baseball teams.

The Times reports Dr. Mark Bonn allegedly pressured a doctoral student to give football players, including Tampa native James Wilder Jr., preferential treatment in online hospitality courses on coffee, tea and wine. Other student-athletes allegedly "handed in plagiarized work and disregarded assignments and quizzes."

FSU issued a statement Friday explaining it did not report the allegations previously because an independent investigation found no NCAA violations. But Bonn's course "was subsequently modified for other reasons."

In April, WTSP exposed how Prof. Bonn appears to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars on the side crafting inflated economic impact studies to help pro teams and leagues justify public tax subsidies for new stadium projects.

When the story made national headlines, Bonn told The Toronto Star, "(The reporter) can go jump in a lake, as far as I’m concerned.”

The Times also reported Wilder emailed Professor Bonn at the end of one summer semester to suggest he needed a "B" to "keep myself in good academic place with the school.” Bonn reportedly instructed the doctoral student, Christina Suggs, to work with the “starting star running back" and provide him a chance to make up missing work, even though it had already been graded.

But Suggs objected to special treatment, reportedly telling a colleague, “I am not offering this opportunity to other students.” The Times writes that "the colleague agreed, summing up their mutual concern about Professor Bonn: 'Trying to put a stop to his favoritism for athletes once and for all.'"

Bonn stopped responding to WTSP's questions in April; he did not respond to the newest allegations on Friday, either.


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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What St. Pete's Election Means for the Rays

Crazy results in today's St. Pete mayoral primary, where Mayor Rick Baker finished in a virtual tie with incumbent Rick Kriseman.  With just about all of the votes counted, Kriseman's unofficial total was 69 votes more than Baker. That's 48.36% to 48.23%.  Of course, since neither Rick reached 50%, it does not matter and the two will head to a run-off in November.

That's fantastic news for both Kriseman, who was on the verge of an outright loss according to polls, and also good for Rays fans hoping to keep the team in St. Pete, for they now have two more months to try and keep Kriseman in city hall, their best bet for keeping the Rays in St. Pete.

It may also delay conversations about Tampa's stadium pitch, as the team has quietly told folks in Hillsborough they don't want to influence the mayor's race.

Earlier this month, I interviewed both candidates about the city's pro sports future, and reported on some of the big differences in their loyalties & visions.  St. Pete seems to be too small for two top-level teams, and Baker is a natural ally of the Rowdies after quarterbacking their MLS 2 St. Pete campaign (sorry to mix metaphors) while Kriseman has been a reliable partner to the Rays.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times' instant editorial on the election quickly dismissed St. Pete's chances for a new Rays stadium, writing "it is apparent that a new baseball stadium is not likely to be built on this land for the Tampa Bay Rays, who are more likely to prefer a new stadium in Tampa."

Except the assumption seems to be based on nothing more than Ken Hagan's promise of a possible stadium location near Ybor City. County commissioners haven't heard the plan, which is likely to compete with other budget priorities; city councilmembers haven't heard the plan, which is likely to be unpopular with some; taxpayers haven't heard the plan, which is likely going to cost them money; and most importantly - nobody in Hillsborough has any idea how to pay for the darn thing. Don't count Pinellas and its deep pockets out.

Hey Times, what happened to the days of calling on St. Pete and Tampa to work together on this for "complementary rather than competitive efforts?" And warning about Commissioner Ken Hagan's "poor track record when it comes to limiting public subsidies?" The secretive negotiations and tug-of-war only hurts taxpayers.

City Council showdowns

In an eight-way primary for the District 6 seat, Justin Bean will advance to the runoff after besting the field with approximately 21% of the votes in the small district. He will face either Robert Blackmon or Gina Driscoll, who appear to be separated by just EIGHT votes with the overwhelming majority of ballots now counted. They will have to wait for a recount to know their official fates, however. In the general election runoff, any voter in the city can vote.

Bean, who was a consultant on the Tropicana Field redevelopment project, said "no public funds" for the stadium during his campaign, but said he would be open to using tax money for infrastructure and surrounding development. It was reported Blackmon wanted to use city resources to market the Rays better, as well as offering the team redevelopment money and possibly a CRA/TIF district to help pay for construction.  Driscoll campaigned on a methodical approach to the Rays, reportedly supported a new stadium, but only after additional input from locals and financial commitment from the Rays.

Two other city council races will also be decided in fall: District 2 and District 4.  Neither race had a primary because each had just two candidates qualify.

In D2, Barclay Harless, who promised "not one dime" for the Rays until the city gets its sewer problems under control, faces off against fellow Democrat Brandi Gabbard.  10News previously showed how some St. Pete stadium dollars were coming from the same revenue pot as sewer dollars.  Gabbard has supported relocating the Rays into her North St. Pete district, possibly to the Derby Lane site.

In D4, incumbent Darden Rice, a Democrat who has been methodical but supportive of Kriseman's path on the Stadium Saga, seems to have an insurmountable advantage over 21-year-old challenger Jerick Johnson, who has only raised $4,331 compared to more than $100,000 raised by Rice.

A fourth council seat up for grabs went uncontested this year, with incumbent Amy Foster winning re-election unopposed.

St. Pete's general election is set for Nov. 7.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Rays, Hagan Continue to Sweep Funding Conversations Under Rug, Make Mockery of Transparency Promises

For seven years, the Rays been able to distract from the Stadium Saga's biggest challenge (funding) by focusing the conversation about their future on location.  This weekend's latest Times' editorial, "An intriguing site for new Rays stadium" - and to a somewhat lesser degree, John Romano's in-depth examination of an Ybor City site - were the latest pieces to gloss over the extreme public price tag that seems to come along with Hillsborough's super-secret plan.

But a stark contrast to that editorial was Joe Henderson's excellent Times column, focusing on Commissioner Ken Hagan's love of Cobb County's super-secret, not-so-great, potentially-illegal deal with the Braves, a deal called "the worst sports stadium deal ever," which includes county subsidies to the tune of $82 per passenger to get fans and employees to the stadium.

Henderson examined how much "infrastructure" Hagan might be willing to commit Hillsborough County to.  And he wrote about how little the Braves contributed to all of their privately-controlled development, while property taxes (in a county that can't afford its public parks) largely help fund that stadium:
They did this without a voter referendum.

Hillsborough County is studying this?

Study away guys, and then do just the opposite.
Henderson is a former sports columnist, by the way.  He continues to ask rhetoricals about stadium financing:
You'll probably hear a lot of talk about creating a special-taxing district in and around a new stadium, to help with financing. That's fine, even though it won't generate nearly enough money. Tourist taxes? The fight for that money will be bloody if backers try to divert millions more to a stadium.

Every time I pull at these threads, it keeps coming back to fact Major League Baseball generated about $10 billion in 2016 and the cash keeps coming in.

What that means is we can dream about an Ybor stadium all we want, but until we see what the Rays are willing to pay, a dream is all it will be.
The lack of transparency is a common theme in stadium talks across the country, and the Rays' Stadium Saga is no exception.  The team promised to be different than the Marlins and be open about funding years ago...but executives have done nothing but deflect questions about how much they're willing to pay for their new home for nine years.

And, as the Times' editorial board wrote in 2014, "transparency isn't Hagan's strong suit," either.  The links below and this 2016 commentary should help make that abundantly clear.   He improperly deleted text messages during a 2015 investigation into his back-room dealings and his office routinely struggles to comply with the state's law on producing public records in a timely fashion.
Hagan also promised to provide more details on funding last fall but has yet to utter a single peep on what it will cost the public in nearly 12 months since then.

In fact, the growing expectation for public subsidies for the Rays is something I examined a week ago, as is Ken Hagan's shift from "no public dollars" on a Rays stadium to a plan that will likely include more public money than Raymond James Stadium.

Hagan has repeatedly said, "There will never be another Raymond James/sweetheart deal in this county," but its looking more and more like the public cost of a Rays stadium will be hundreds of millions of dollars, compared to the "just" $168 million it took to build Raymond James Stadium ($253 million in 2017 dollars).

A Hagan history on Shadow of the Stadium:
I'll be writing more on the extreme public price tag of a new Rays stadium in the upcoming when the county tries to sneak this plan through claiming, "your tax dollars won't be used," you have all the real information at your fingertips.

Meanwhile, in other news, the Rays' TV ratings have basically held steady from a year ago, pulling in a 2.9 avg nightly rating, good enough for first among all Tampa Bay cable programming.  And even though the same numbers that ranked the Rays 13th in MLB last year has them at 20th this year, they still stand to make more money the next time their TV contract comes around for negotiations.

Of course, they won't disclose when that is.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hillsborough Commissioner Gets Check From Former MLB Exec Now Getting Paid by Hillsborough County

The Hillsborough commissioner leading the charge to move the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa has collected a campaign check from one high-profile donor who is already benefiting from the stadium efforts.

Thanks to longtime Shadow of the Stadium reader Scott Myers for catching Bob DuPuy's name in Commissioner Ken Hagan's May donor report. DuPuy gave Hagan the maximum-allowable $1,000 toward his 2018 campaign.

Bob DuPuy is a former MLB president and now partner at law firm Foley & Lardner. Foley & Lardner is the same firm Hagan and the county have reportedly paid nearly $200,000 to for its assistance in luring the Rays across the bay.

Hagan also recently reported donations from Rays owner Stu Sternberg and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. He has been trying to find creative ways to get public dollars for a new stadium in Tampa.

Hagan has served as a county commissioner for 15 years and will be term-limited out of his countywide seat in 2018, but will be seeking another four-year term as a commissioner for District 2. His fundraising prowess has often scared off opponents, and so far, only one other person has filed to run against Hagan in 2018, fellow Republican, Chris Paradies.

Hagan has reported $350,661 in fundraising for the race through July 31, while Paradies has reported just $3,000.

DuPuy served as MLB COO and President from 2002 to 2010. He also gave Hagan a $1,000 donation in 2013, just before the county hired DuPuy's firm.

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Rob Manfred, Stu Sternberg Make it Clear Taxpayers Had Better Bring Their A-Game on Rays Stadium Offers

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made a visit to Tampa Bay and told reporters yesterday...more of the same stuff he's been saying for years.

Manfred said the Rays are in great need of a "major league-quality facility" (to which I ask, when did it stop becoming one?), and said talks needed to be put on "the front-burner" (to which, I ask, have they not been?!?).

In fact, Tom Jones penned a column this morning asking the same rhetorical question, "Wait, it hasn't already been on the front burner?"

Jones continues:
"Manfred said a new stadium needs government support, which sounds an awful lot like, "Hey, don't expect my buddy Stu to pay for this thing." Manfred also said he has no preference where the stadium is built.
And that's why this thing is taking so long. The Rays have refused to talk money for nine years. Despite promising transparency. And it has halted any real progress.
After all, the whole conversation about the perfect site is a big ole distraction to the real issue: funding. And its a way for the Rays to pit Hillsborough against Pinellas, which is already happening. I mean, how do you go shopping for a home without knowing if you're working with a Hyde Park budget or a Pinellas Park budget??

Not much has changed in terms of transparency over the years:

Meanwhile, back to Manfred, his comments yesterday weren't any different than what he said a month ago at the All-Star Game, where Field of Schemes summarized, "I think we may need to just admit that Rob Manfred is not very good at this move threat thing...Rays and Oakland A’s fans should be grateful, I suppose, since they don’t have to wake up to “Manfred says [your team here] could move without new stadium” headlines today.

Well, here in Tampa Bay, we woke up to headlines today of more Manfred non-threat threats, even though his most recent comments were really no different than any others.

In 2016, he said relocation was "possible" if the situation reached a point of "desperation"...but they weren't there yet.  In 2015, he suggested it was time for Tampa Bay to step up its stadium game. And earlier that year, he basically said local taxpayers needed to be prepared to cough up some dough to keep the Rays long-term...or else.

Nine years after all the Stadium Saga fearmongering started, whattaya know - the team is still here...and we aren't really any closer to building a new stadium in Tampa Bay.

Unless, of course, you count the fact that politicians like Commissioner Ken Hagan, who once campaigned on "no public dollars" for a stadium, have warmed the public up to the idea of spending hundreds of millions of public dollars to make a deal happen.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A New Rays Stadium Would Be Expensive, So Hillsborough Commissioner Asked Sheriff if He'd Consider Vacating His HQ for Project

In his search to find the Rays a new place to play in Tampa's urban core, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has toyed with the idea of relocating the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office headquarters out of Ybor City to make room for a new stadium, WTSP has learned.

Multiple sources confirm Hagan approached Sheriff David Gee about a stadium in the heart of Ybor, although it is not clear if the land swap idea was entertained by the soon-to-be-retired sheriff. It is also not clear if Hagan was exploring the possibility of using the HCSO property for a stadium or as part of stadium-related development.

But while relocating the sheriff's office might have alleviated some of the challenges in financing a ballpark, it would likely put the burden of a new HCSO headquarters on an already-beleaguered county budget.

Hagan has repeatedly refused questions from WTSP and did not respond to interview requests either Monday or Tuesday.

RELATED: Ken Hagan, Hillsborough Man of Mystery

In addition to helping the Rays find the "pitch-perfect" site for a new stadium, Hagan has also assumed the lead on trying to find available public revenues that could help the Rays pay for a new stadium. On Monday, WTSP broke the story of how the county was exploring federal transit dollars to help finance Rays-related development.

Providing public land for stadium development could be another possible avenue for taxpayers to subsidize the project. Hagan, who once advocated "no public dollars" be spent on a Rays stadium, has recently said he thought taxpayers should help with the "infrastructure" side of a new stadium.

County-owned land
HCSO headquarters is located at 1900 E. 8th St. in Ybor City, and is part of a nine-acre plot of land owned by the county.

While nine acres is not likely big enough for a stadium, the property sits conveniently adjacent to four acres worth of properties owned by developer Darryl Shaw, who has been quietly amassing land in Ybor City for future development. Four additional acres of parking lots also sit adjacent to the HCSO property.

County-owned land plus Darryl Shaw-controlled land
A representative for Shaw said he would not be available to comment Tuesday.

St. Petersburg has already pitched the Rays on its proposed new stadium project at Tropicana Field, as Hagan and Hillsborough County prepare its public pitch at a yet-to-be-disclosed site. The Rays are believed to want to wait until after the St. Petersburg mayoral election is decided, which will either be late August or early November.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

With Local & State Tax Money Sparse, Hillsborough Wonders if Federal Transit Money Could Pay for Rays Stadium

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Florida - With a long list of projects in need of local tax dollars and the poor track record of professional teams landing state stadium subsidies in recent years, Hillsborough County may be eyeing federal dollars to help get a new Rays stadium built in - or near - Downtown Tampa.

Emails obtained by WTSP-TV Monday reveal separate meetings recently taken by both the Rays and Hillsborough County administrators with a transportation consultant.

On August 2, Mark Aesch, the CEO of TransPro Consulting, wrote Hillsborough County CFO Bonnie Wise an email with the subject, "Rays and Transit Livable Communities Funding."

According to national nonprofit Next City, the Livable Community Act supports local projects focused around transit-oriented development, encourage density, and decrease the negative impact of development on the environment.

Excerpts from Aesch's email include:
"I've been interacting with (Rays Senior V.P.) Melanie (Lenz) and the team over at the Rays .... and having discussions about how we have successfully used federal transportation dollars to create partnerships with community priorities (transit $$ into a Performing Arts Center - university, etc)."

"In any case --- the folks at the Rays have been very interested," Aesch continued. "Melanie asked me to reach out to you - hence my having a great opportunity to do so! I am actually meeting w Mike and Chip on another topic on Monday August 7 ..... so if perhaps late AM might work for you ---- would love to be together."
Ensuing emails showed Wise and Aesch arranged an afternoon meeting on Aug. 7.

The Rays declined comment on this story, while Aesch did not respond to a Monday afternoon email requesting comment.

A county spokesperson said Wise was the only employee available to comment on the matter, but she would be unavailable until Wednesday this week.

RELATED: Ken Hagan, Hillsborough Man of Mystery

However, the Rays have been outspoken about the importance of transit improvements to their future in Tampa Bay, making several political donations to local transit political campaigns over the years.

Details about how Hillsborough County would potential fund a stadium - and how many tax dollars would be in-play - have been few and far between. County commissioner and lead Rays negotiator, Ken Hagan, has avoided creating public record or making public comments regarding the tax dollars discussed behind closed doors.

However, Rays owner Stu Sternberg recently donated $1,000 to Hagan's re-election campaign. Hagan did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

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Ken Hagan Still Plans to Offer Rays Taxpayer Money without Taxpayer Input

Seven Eight quick reactions to this morning's Tampa Bay Times story on how little news there is on the Rays-to-Tampa front:

For reference, here's the 2015 post on Cobb Co's secret, not-so-great, potentially-illegal deal with the Braves.

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