St. Pete City Council Displaying Why Tampa Bay Rays Need To Be in Tampa

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIJanuary 31, 2010

The Hatfield's and the McCoy's are at it again, with Major League Baseball caught in the crossfire.

After a failed attempt to get a new stadium for the Rays built in Downtown St. Petersburg, the city's mayor, Rick Baker, formed a task force with the express mission to determine whether a new stadium is needed, where it would best be located, and how much would it cost.

Baker asked Progress Energy executive Jeff Lyash to head the committee.

Lyash formed the ABC coalition, with 10 Pinellas business and community leaders and one Tampa CEO.

While initially designed to focus on Pinellas County, the coalition decided to broaden with a larger regional focus.

Within it's findings, the coalition decided that a maximum 30-minute drive time to the stadium was critical to decent attendance and corporate support, both low at Tropicana Field by Major League Baseball standards.

About 600,000 people can drive to Tropicana Field in 30 minutes, coalition studies indicated, while over 1 million could get to the Gateway, west Tampa and downtown Tampa in that time.

The coalition, which studied the stadium issue for 18 months, approved its final report Monday and planned to present it to the St. Petersburg City Council and the mayor next week.

Only, the council and the new mayor, Bill Foster, refuse to hear the findings.


Because the ABC coalition felt a new centrally located stadium would be the only viable option—not downtown St. Pete and not the current Trop site.

All the coalition's key conclusions have been previously publicized, as subcommittees reported back on specific issues like design, location and financing.

According to the St. Petersburg Times , highlights include:

• Tropicana Field with badly designed concourses, horrible sight lines and few luxury boxes is at the end of it's functional life and renovation would be too costly.

• To stay consistently competitive, the Rays need the higher revenues that a modern, retractable roof stadium with lots of amenities can generate.

• Under today's conditions, such a stadium would probably cost at least $550 million.

• To draw more fan and corporate support, a new stadium should be closer to the Tampa Bay area's demographic and business centers. The Pinellas Gateway, downtown Tampa and west Tampa meet that criteria, but downtown St. Petersburg does not.

• The current financing arrangement on the Trop and a portion of Pinellas County's bed tax, runs through 2015 and would have to be extended for another 30 years. The Rays would need to pay 20 to 30 percent of construction costs and the project would still need additional financing sources.

Instead of accepting the report for the good of the region, the small-minded politicians in St. Petersburg refused to hear the findings because it includes options other than St. Petersburg for location of the stadium.

"We appreciate ABC's efforts,'' City Attorney John Wolfe and Senior Administrator Rick Mussett wrote Tuesday in a memo to the council. "However, any relationship the city may have had with ABC has been effectively severed.''

"The city is not going to do anything that indicates we don't still believe that Tropicana Field is a suitable stadium,'' Mayor Foster said.

So basically, your city asks for the report and when you don't like it's findings, you stick your fingers in your ears and go "'t hear you!"

It's small town politics at it's finest and it's why businesses would rather deal with Tampa and Hillsborough County instead of St. Pete/Pinellas.

St. Petersburg cannot support the Rays on their own; they neither have the demographic nor monetary capital to do so. Keeping the Rays in Tropicana Field is a death knell for the franchise in this area.

It's that jealousy of "big brother" that has cause a divide between the two communities longer than the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. For decades, instead of being the Tampa Bay community it's been St. Petersburg versus Tampa. The rivalry was what brought on this albatross in the first place.

As I illustrated in a previous article , the franchise needs to be closer to the business centers to draw more fans and corporate support. 

St. Petersburg continues to hurt the region compiling their awful decision to build a stadium no want wanted in an area that no one goes to (not even their own residents).

With the high-speed rail coming to Tampa, now is the perfect time for the Tampa Bay Rays to move into a quaint, retractable roof stadium at the business center of the region. With bullet trains coming from Orlando, the team can touch an entirely new demographic it has missed out on for a decade.

Instead, St. Petersburg officials continue to stick their head in the sand and threaten lawsuits.

These are the same St. Pete officials who bristle every time a sportscaster referred to the Rays as "Tampa" or "The Tampa Rays" or games being played "down in Tampa."

So let's see if we can get this straight: St. Petersburg City Council would rather the Rays go bankrupt or move out of the region rather than move to another more centralized location in Pinellas County or Tampa?

It's that "if not us than no where" mentality that made Tampa Bay have to wait for a franchise for nearly two decades.

Here's the kicker folks. None of the St. Petersburg residents want the team in St. Petersburg. Polls indicate that they don't want their tax dollars spent on the Trop (as it is now) or on a new stadium and would rather see the team move to Tampa or points elsewhere.

Tampa mayor Pam Iorio, Tampa City Council, and Hillsborough County officials have been absolutely silent on the issue, not making any public comments that could touch off another border war exchange of words and legal threats.

Not only will St. Pete lose the economic benefit of having Major League Baseball in the region but so will all of Tampa Bay.

Now is a critical juncture for St. Petersburg and Pinellas County officials. They need to rise up from their narrow vision and look at the big picture.

They must extend an olive branch to Tampa and do something for the good of the region before their greed ruins it for everyone.



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