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Victory — For Now

in Peter/The Bay and the 'Burg by

I guess POWW’s decision to hire me wasn’t so bad after all…from the SHROCK:

There will not be a ballpark on the downtown waterfront.

The Tampa Bay Rays say they have altogether abandoned thoughts of an open-air stadium at the site of Al Lang Field.

“It’s pretty clear people did not want a ballpark down there,” Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt said Friday. “From what we’re seeing, we’re probably in that camp, too.

“For us, Al Lang’s not an option.” That acknowledgement, which follows a steady and growing opposition for the waterfront plan, puts a final nail in the coffin of a $450 million proposal that for months ripped the city in two.

It also creates an immediate new question for the Rays, citizens and stadium opponents: Where next?

For their part, the Rays added a wrinkle to that discussion Friday:

Team officials say they are now unsure if a new stadium could succeed anywhere in downtown St. Petersburg, including at Tropicana Field.

The team prefers moving north toward the middle of Pinellas County, where the population within a 30-minute drive doubles, according to a Rays analysis.

“We think there are big issues with downtown St. Petersburg as a site,” Kalt said.

Kalt said the team will continue to let a group investigating possible stadium sites, A Baseball Community, continue its work unfettered. But the Rays support to any plan is an obviously critical piece.

Opponents who fought the waterfront location and local elected leaders were happy with the Rays’ decision.

“It’s very good,” said Hal Freedman, who founded the group Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront. “Our aim was to preserve both the waterfront and taxpayer wallets. Not having the waterfront stadium goes a long way to one of our two goals.”

The team says it took a gamble on the waterfront location when it was first proposed in November 2007.

Team officials say it was the cheapest option and hoped, with a stylized design and iconic roof structure, that the ballpark could lure new businesses and people downtown.

Kalt said Friday team officials probably miscalculated.

The city is now in the process of rezoning Al Lang Field as parkland and is also considering creating a 75 foot height limit. City Council members could approve both measures next month.

“I think they thought everyone would fall in love with their idea, and we didn’t,” said City Council member and mayoral candidate Jamie Bennett, who is proposing an amendment to the City Charter to offer protections to Al Lang Field from public development.

Mayoral candidate Bill Foster, a former City Council member who was among the first to ask the Rays to abandon the waterfront site, said Friday the proposal was flawed from its inception.

“I’ve been here 46 years. Some things you know will work and some things you know won’t,” Foster said. “These guys are new, but they’re starting to come around. I commend them.”

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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