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Email insights: Chamber continues long commitment to baseball in St. Pete

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce President Chris Steinocher was one of a handful of residents to speak in favor of the latest deal to let the Tampa Bay Rays look for alternative stadium sites outside of the city before council approved the agreement five to three.

After the high-profile vote, Steinocher, along with current Chamber Chairman Bill Ulbricht and Chairman-elect Greg Holden, emailed members praising the latest action in the years-long debate.

“Our Chamber of Commerce was at the forefront of the effort to bring Major League Baseball to our community, and we will be at the forefront of the effort to ensure Major League Baseball remains in St. Petersburg for future generations,” the email read.

During public comment, Steinocher reminded council that the Chamber had been an integral part of bringing Spring Training baseball to St. Pete about 100 years ago. The Chamber reiterated that commitment to baseball in its email.

“The Boston Braves, The St. Louis Cardinals, Stan Musial, The New York Yankees, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, The Miracle New York Mets … and, of course, our home team – The Tampa Bay Rays,” the email listed.

Supporters praised the deal for its strong pull to help the business community. Under the approved proposal, the Tampa Bay Rays are required to notify the city of its intentions to either stay in St. Pete or leave in favor of another site in Pinellas or Hillsborough Counties.

The deal also ensures St. Pete can immediately start taking steps to develop the 85 acres of land that comprise the Tropicana Field site.

If the team stays in St. Pete through its contract or beyond, the Rays are entitled to half of the development revenue on the site incentivizing the team to stay put. Should they leave prior to 2027 when the team’s Current Use Agreement expires, the city maintains 100 percent of development proceeds.

Either way, the approved Memorandum of Understanding gives potential businesses looking to develop on the site or near it the certainty needed to make a sound business investment in the community.

“A strong, unified and supportive business community will be critical as we bring together community stakeholders to assemble the best proposals and communicate our vision for baseball forever in St. Petersburg,” Chamber leaders wrote.

The trio of Chamber heads promised they would keep members “informed, connected and heard throughout the days ahead.”

The Tampa Bay Times estimates the Tropicana Field site could generate $1 billion in economic development opportunities, though Mayor Rick Kriseman admitted that figure is speculative until further research is done on the site. Regardless, there is little debate about the potential the site holds.

As part of the agreement, the city will, in the weeks and months to come, begin taking steps to create a master plan for the site similar to the recently approved downtown waterfront master plan that serves as a blueprint for parts of St. Pete’s thriving downtown.

A Tropicana Field master plan is seen as a way to further that progress by integrating downtown’s western edge into the rest of the district and continuing growth already well under way in the nearby Grand Central, Edge and Warehouse Arts districts.

Kriseman said he expects the city to begin work immediately on formulating plans to begin the master plan process. That will include a series of public outreach events as well as a selection process for a firm to create the plan.

There are few time frames certain under the latest agreement. However, the deal requires the Rays to play at the current Tropicana Field through 2017.

Kriseman, Thursday, reiterated his commitment to keeping baseball in St. Pete well beyond that date.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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