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Tampa Trib suggests Rays should look across the bay for a new stadium

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From the Tampa Trib’s Sunday editorial page: The Rays know what’s needed for success. Kalt and his associates have been researching stadium designs, profitable ballparks and baseball’s economic reality.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they should get what they want right away. Public officials need to safeguard tax dollars, especially during the recession, when the city can’t be expected to invest in a new facility.

But St. Petersburg and Pinellas officials need to be ready when the economy picks back up, and they must face reality: The Rays need a new stadium to remain viable and competitive. An upgraded Trop won’t do.

If officials in Pinellas aren’t interested, then perhaps it’s time for Rays executives to look to Tampa and Hillsborough County. It has a rich baseball history and would be easier for Orlando-area and most other fans in the region to reach.

And the county’s track record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Lightning – including attendance, facilities and public support – is impressive.

Right now, the county and city, which are facing tens of millions of dollars in budget deficits, can’t afford a third professional sports franchise. But the economy and property-tax collections won’t be down forever. And while the Rays’ lease with St. Petersburg doesn’t expire until 2027, the team could try to negotiate its way out much earlier.

If St. Petersburg and Pinellas leaders keep stonewalling the Rays, Sternberg should explore the possibility of moving across the bay so the team can remain in the region. Read the rest of this editorial after the jump.What the Tampa Bay Rays need now, other than to win, is for a St. Petersburg or Pinellas elected official to lead the campaign for a new ballpark.

Such leadership has been sadly lacking. The organization has been rebuffed at every turn, beginning with the city’s failure to support its original proposal to build a ballpark at Al Lang Field downtown and turn the Tropicana Field site into a mixed-use development.

As a result, the team gave up on the project, which means fans won’t be able to enjoy Major League Baseball along the water. And the city lost out on what could have been a big economic catalyst, though the recession has taken some luster off that development proposal.

Now a Rays’ consultant has clearly debunked the belief held by some officials that renovating Tropicana Field should satisfy the Rays.

It would cost $471 million – about $20 million more than the waterfront ballpark.

And even with major renovations, including a retractable roof, the stadium still would have “significant underlying design issues,” according to Michael Kalt, the Rays vice president of development and business affairs.

There’s a major unknown, too: the cost of relocating the team during renovations, possibly for an entire season. Should a new stadium be built in another location, the team wouldn’t have to relocate during construction.

The domed stadium, built in the mid 1980s, is obsolete, despite the millions spent on improvements by team owner Stuart Sternberg. The team should not be forced to stay there.

Yet Jeff Lyash, who chairs a community group studying the stadium issue, including new sites, told the St. Petersburg Times that renovating the Trop still might be the best route. Some city officials and mayoral candidates agree, based upon their published comments.

The bottom line is this: St. Petersburg and Pinellas deserve every shot to keep the team – if keeping it is truly a community priority, and one they can afford. Local leaders shouldn’t forget how hard former St. Petersburg and Pinellas public officials such as Rick Dodge and Bob Stewart worked to land the expansion franchise in 1995 after so many disappointments.

The Rays know what’s needed for success. Kalt and his associates have been researching stadium designs, profitable ballparks and baseball’s economic reality.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they should get what they want right away. Public officials need to safeguard tax dollars, especially during the recession, when the city can’t be expected to invest in a new facility.

But St. Petersburg and Pinellas officials need to be ready when the economy picks back up, and they must face reality: The Rays need a new stadium to remain viable and competitive. An upgraded Trop won’t do.

If officials in Pinellas aren’t interested, then perhaps it’s time for Rays executives to look to Tampa and Hillsborough County. It has a rich baseball history and would be easier for Orlando-area and most other fans in the region to reach.

And the county’s track record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Lightning – including attendance, facilities and public support – is impressive.

Right now, the county and city, which are facing tens of millions of dollars in budget deficits, can’t afford a third professional sports franchise. But the economy and property-tax collections won’t be down forever. And while the Rays’ lease with St. Petersburg doesn’t expire until 2027, the team could try to negotiate its way out much earlier.

If St. Petersburg and Pinellas leaders keep stonewalling the Rays, Sternberg should explore the possibility of moving across the bay so the team can remain in the region.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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