Shortly after the St. Petersburg City Council finally granted the Tampa Bay Rays management permission to negotiate with Hillsborough County officials regarding a potential new ballpark, St. Pete officials introduced a new project to assure fans that they would move heaven and earth to keep the team in the ‘burg.
In late February came the Baseball Forever Campaign, an initiative spearheaded by the City of St. Pete and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “There’s no better place to play in Tampa Bay, there’s no better place to play in North America, then in downtown St. Petersburg,” St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman told a cheering throng of fans at Ferg’s on February 27.
The campaign has 37 members – all of them from St. Petersburg, and Jack Latvala takes issue with that.
The veteran state legislator has penned a letter to Kriseman, telling him that his focus is too narrow and that his initiative should expand to finding a way to keep the Rays in Pinellas County, and not necessarily just in St. Pete. He lists three reasons why that should be the case.
The first is that St. Petersburg represents only 27 percent of Pinellas County, and that many current Rays fans (like Latvala, a Clearwater resident) come from all over the county to attend Rays games.
His second bullet point is that major funding for the construction of Tropicana Field, the Rays current stadium, came from taxes generated in the county.
“Unless St. Petersburg plans to finance a future from revenues generated solely within the city limits, I believe it would be to include from the very beginning some leaders from other governments, such as the Pinellas County Commission or Tourist Development Council, and then from other geographic regions of the county who have a vested interest in our local economy,” he writes.
And Latvala’s last point is that some of the sites considered for possible relocation are actually outside of St. Petersburg but in Pinellas -such as the recent conversation there has been talk of a possible stadium location in Oldsmar.
“It is time to put local parochialism to aside for the good of the entire community,” Latvala adds.
Mayor Kriseman has yet to formally respond to Latvala. Ben Kirby, Mayor Kriseman’s press secretary, says to be clear, however, that “anyone who believes St. Petersburg should be the forever home of the Tampa Bay Rays is welcome to join this campaign.”
Among the 37 members of the Baseball Forever Campaign include Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, City Council member Ed Montanari, and Kevin King, a special aide to the mayor.