Rays unveil $450 million financing plan

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Rays executives on Thursday announced a $450 million financing plan for a 34,000-seat waterfront ballpark.

Team executives are counting on the sale of their current home, Tropicana Field, the continuation of a hotel bed tax and $55 million in parking revenues over the life of the new stadium.

Rays president Matthew Silverman said the project would generate $900 million in tax revenues over three decades, redevelop the blighted area around the current stadium and create thousands of construction jobs. The ballpark could open in 2012.

"We see these projects combined as a $1.2 billion economic stimulus engine," Silverman said. "It could be the largest project in the history of St. Petersburg."

City officials listened patiently Thursday as the plan was presented, later asking questions about bond debt, parking agreements and whether the team could guarantee that building costs wouldn't skyrocket and hurt taxpayers.

City budget leaders said they will scrutinize the numbers in preparation for a discussion scheduled for next week. Even if city and county leaders agree the plan is viable, it will still need voter approval in November.

"This is a start," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said.

The new stadium would sit on the edge of Tampa Bay and would include open-air seating. A sail-like retractable covering would shield fans from rainstorms and the heat, team officials have said.

The Rays would commit $150 million to the project. The continuation of a hotel bed tax would add another $100 million, and the team would ask St. Petersburg to pay roughly $75 million that team officials say the city has already committed to the team.