Pro-baseball business group urges St. Pete City Council to approve stadium agreement

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Business and community leaders, hoping to keep baseball in Tampa Bay, are urging the St. Petersburg City Council to ratify the agreement between Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld.

Clutch Hitters of Tampa Bay, a group founded in 2008 with a common interest in the continued presence of Major League Baseball in the area, is supporting the Memorandum of Understanding announced by Kriseman Tuesday morning.

Clutch Hitters Chair Joe Bourdow, in a statement released Wednesday, noted that it took St. Petersburg and the Rays five years of negotiations just to get to this point.

“It is time for the Tampa Bay Business community, public officials and the Rays to go to work,” said Bourdow, who is also president of RadioStPete.com, a local online radio website.

Both sides need to “find the right solution to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay in a location and facility where this significant economic asset can be sustained, grow attendance and thrive,” he added.

Clutch Hitters believe the proposed agreement “fairly compensates” St. Petersburg, should the Rays find a site outside of the city within the next three years, if the Rays build a new stadium in Pinellas or Hillsborough and if the team begins playing there before 2027, the end of its contract with the City.

If a new stadium fails to materialize, they say, the agreement also protects the rights of the City, if the team elects to leave Tampa Bay entirely before 2027.

The City of St. Petersburg also gets an opportunity to make the “best case” for a new stadium built inside the City limits, something Kriseman pledged to do.

Past Clutch Hitters Chair David Feaster says a formal process should begin immediately to assess the 85-acre site of Tropicana Field.

“We recognize that St. Petersburg and Pinellas County fought long and hard to bring Major League Baseball to the City and the Tampa Bay community,” Feaster said. “Over the past 16 years, the City accomplished what it set out to do:  successfully spawn the development of St. Petersburg and the waterfront.”

With years of declining attendance, time may be running out to save Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay, Bourdow warned. For years, Rays owners insisted the current facility is not sustainable in the long term, and requested that all possible sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough be considered for a new stadium.

The Bay Area Stadium Caucus, a collaboration of St. Petersburg and Greater Tampa Chambers, issued a report last year that concluded cities and counties could contribute as much as $500 million, including $100 million for a retractable roof. Tropicana Field is the last remaining fixed (non-retractable) roof stadium in Major League Baseball.

New stadium construction can be accomplished without new taxes on residents, the report said, particularly if the Rays pick up much of the cost.

“Funding sources are likely to dry up and be put to other uses,” Bourdow said, “if the process of finding the best stadium site is further delayed.”

He stressed that the time to move forward is now, “to protect this important regional asset that defines every city in Tampa Bay as ‘major league.’”

The Clutch Hitters website is at www.tbclutchhitters.com.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.