Proposed tax hike to fund Yankee stadium in Ocala fails

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OCALA, Fla. - A tax increase to pay for a new stadium for the New York Yankees in Ocala was officially killed on Tuesday.

Now city officials are scrambling to find another way to pay for a $53 million baseball field.

City leaders are not ready to call it a game, saying their two outs in the bottom of the ninth might be an understatement, but they have until April to come up with a new funding plan.

"It has come to an end. The original deal is dead," said Jack Stackman, Marion County resident.

To the delight of many people at the meeting of the Marion County Commission, a proposal to hike the sales tax to pay for the baseball field was sent to the showers.

"All we were asking for was to just let the people vote," said Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn.

City officials wanted a county-wide referendum.

"This was a city-Yankee deal," said Carl Zalak, Marion County Commission chairman.

However, commissioners never showed any love for the tax and balked at the idea of putting it on a ballot.

"The question to the city has always been, 'Why didn't you put a referendum out there to raise property taxes inside the city of Ocala and fund the stadium, it's your project?'" said Zalak.

With the handwriting on the wall, the Yankees suspended talks with the city and withdrew the plan to move their minor league team from Tampa to Ocala.

Disappointed city officials said other businesses had planned to tag along.

"(Businesses) were currently talking to us about coming here," said Guinn. "Now, with this, I don't know that it's going to happen."

However, Guinn and chamber of commerce officials still are not ready to throw in the towel.

"No one has ever said we don't want the Yankees here. (Or that) we don't want baseball here," said Kevin Sheilley, with the Chamber & Economic Partnership. "What they said was, we're not sure we want to finance it this way."

Mayor Guinn said the city has worked with an expert who finances stadiums and they're going to reach out to them again.