In what was really just an excuse to hand out free T-shirts, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman launched the city’s Baseball Forever campaign Saturday evening at Ferg’s Sports Bar. The campaign is the city’s official effort to build a case for keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg.
According to St. Pete chief of staff Kevin King, the city hired Rick Mussett, the city’s retired senior administrator who was St. Pete’s main contact with the Rays and played an integral part in bringing Major League Baseball to the city in the first place. Mussett is now the Baseball Forever coordinator.
King said the city budgeted $50,000 for Mussett’s services as a part-time city employee. He’ll work through about October when the city expects to release its prospectus to the Tampa Bay Rays outlining why St. Pete is the best place in the region for baseball.
Other than that, few details about the campaign were released. The city is partnering with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. Kriseman and chamber CEO Chris Steinocher announced a still-forming list of campaign leaders to raucous applause in the packed bar.
Those leaders include Duke Energy’s Alex Glenn; Anthony Ateek, a writer for DRaysBay Blog; City Council member Ed Montanari; chamber board chair Greg Holden; and Joni James, CEO of the St. Pete Downtown Partnership as well as several other attorneys, community leaders and business heads.
“We’re asking all of you to join us,” Kriseman said. “Show [the Rays] corporate support is possible.”
The Rays have long struggled to pack fans into Tropicana Field for games. Though the team consistently has high television ratings, its attendance ratings are among some of the worst in the league. That’s why the Rays have fought for years to be able to look outside St. Pete for new places to play ball.
St. Pete City Council finally approved a deal this year allowing the team to explore stadium prospects in Pinellas and Hillsborough. Part of that deal includes giving St. Pete the opportunity to plead its case. The team also has to pay $100,000 toward a master plan for the Tropicana Field site. The city released a Request for Qualifications for firms to establish that plan this week, and it puts heavy emphasis on developing plans based on keeping a stadium on site.
The baseball forever campaign will focus primarily on the Tropicana Field site as well, though the city is keeping an open dialogue with county officials for other sites near the city such as Derby Lane.
The Baseball Forever campaign will develop a prospectus to deliver to the Rays that will follow guidelines the team already released as priorities in a new stadium location. Those include a catalyst for development, local authenticity, regional connectivity, site accessibility, size and geometry and financial feasibility and development readiness.
“This is the best place for that team to play,” Kriseman said, referring to all North America, not just the U.S.
That’s because there has been much speculation that the Rays may leave the Tampa Bay area and head to Montreal.
Steinocher implored fans to start acting like fans. He told them to go to more games.
“We are a major league city,” he said.
The city and chamber are still assembling their Baseball Forever team. Steinocher said everyone is invited to meetings and to come forward with ideas for making St. Pete’s pro-baseball case.
Interested individuals can sign up for updates on the campaign at the Baseball Forever website. Steinocher asked everyone to “step-up” and invite their friends, family and neighbors to get involved as well.
Then people flocked for those free T-shirts.