Hillsborough County is hoping to lure the Tampa Bay Rays out of Tropicana Field.
To do that county commissioner Ken Hagan and a group consisting of elected and business leaders from around the county are negotiating plans with the baseball team.
On Tuesday, Hagan met with the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce to discuss the importance of baseball for the community and the progress of a deal with the Rays.
Hagan emphasized that he thought Hillsborough was the only sensible location for the baseball team.
“I believe in my heart, it’s either going to be in Tampa or they are going to leave the region. They won’t be here,” Hagan said.
In two weeks, the group negotiating will meet with the Rays. Hagan hopes to have a pared-down list of four potential stadium sites in Hillsborough to take to the Rays. Currently there are nine possible locations.
The group dealing with the Rays consists of Hagan, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Tampa Sports Authority President Eric Hart, Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes and Fifth Third Bank Tampa Bay President Brian Lamb.
A new stadium, Hagan said, would look very different from the traditional cookie-cutter. The group wants to bring innovative new ideas into development, like removing the upper decks and suite seats.
“There could potentially not be suite seats,” said Hagan. “I think the newer model now is more closely aligned with a loge concept. It’s cheaper and allows smaller businesses to be apart of it.”
Amalia Arena has incorporated loge seating, and the small lounge-style seating is more open and inexpensive than the normal suite seating. Hagan said that loge sitting saves residential and business customers money.
Hagan also spoke about what he considers a setback for the county. In April, the county commission voted to reject a transportation sales tax referendum, which would have been on the ballot in November. The referendum could have led to changes in the mass transit system and other transportation projects around the county.
“Mass transit will be a critically important element for any stadium plan. That is why I’m disappointed that our board didn’t allow a transportation referendum,” Hagan said.
By January Hagan is hoping to have a property lined up and a financial game plan to move forward with the Rays.