Buckhorn says Council needs to take it slow regarding CRA money

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At a press conference last August, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan openly speculated about tapping into tax incremental financing in the downtown area to help fund a new baseball stadium if the Tampa Bay Rays were to seriously consider moving across the Bay.

Buckhorn said revenues from the area zoned as a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) could conceivably leverage up to $100 million for a park. Overall costs for the construction of a possible new park for the Rays could go up to at least $600 million, if the idea ever comes to fruition.

But Tampa City Councilwoman Yolie Capin says that there is a perception that those funds are already being earmarked for a stadium, which is why she's called for a workshop for Thursday, Feb. 13 to talk about the various possibilities of where the money could go.

An unscientific survey conducted by St. Pete Polls last week with 624 Tampa residents showed that 30 percent wanted the money to go toward improving the homeless situation. 25 percent wanted it to go to transportation, 16 percent for police and fire, and only 7.5 for a potential Rays stadium.

"It could be three or four different projects. It doesn't have to be one," Capin told CL earlier this week. She said the element that people should be thinking about is where the funds would best benefit the downtown core.

The funds in question come from the Downtown Tampa Community Redevelopment Area, which currently is paying down bonds for the Tampa Convention Center. But those payments will end in 2015. Hence, the concerns beginning now about what to do with that funding.

Similar speculation has occurred in Pinellas County for years regarding the fact that most of the construction bonds paying off Tropicana Field will also expire in 2015, freeing up millions of dollars annually in county bed taxes.

Capin feels it's important to talk about possible usages for the TIF money because the perception is that the money is already spoken for. "I think it would be good to hear from community elders," she says.

But Mayor Buckhorn says it's "premature" to make declarations one way or another since there's nothing on the table at the moment. He says the money could be used for mass transit, a stadium or other infrastructure needs that aren't even being discussed at the moment.

"I would just hope that council members would not stake out positions saying 'Yes, they'll do this, or 'Yes they'll do that' until they figure out how much they have," Buckhorn said Wednesday morning. "What the appropriate expenditures are, and what the appropriate expenditures are, and what opportunities we have. At that point we would then go to the council and say, these are the options."

Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists convinced that a ballpark will be built in the Channelside area in Tampa got more ammunition this week with the announcement that Fergs sports bar owner Mark Ferguson will set up a second location in Tampa directly across from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

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