Stadium Issue to start Heating Up
Today in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, the first of the mayorial canididates had a little debate about the Rays and their future involvement in the city of St. Petersburg. Several of the upcoming mayor’s election candidates met at the Globe Coffee Shop to comment on the issue. As many people might not know, the Tampa Bay Rays Waterfront stadium issue has been put on the backburner right now and they have formed a blue-ribbon fact-finding committee to undertake the logistics of locations within the Pinellas county. Such sites as the Toytown dump site off of I-275 and Roosevelt Blvd, Also The St. Petersburg Sod Farm location at Gandy and I-275, and a parcel of land near Derby Lane off of 4th Street and Gandy Blvd. Also under consideration is the present site of Tropicana Field just to the east of the current stadium.
This committee will make its recommendations this summer to the Rays and the St. Peterburg City Council. But in this impromptu arena, St. Petersburg mayor candidate Scott Wagman say he would not require the team to build within the St. Petersburg city limits. Wagman said he would like the Rays to stay in St. Petersburg, but that it is more important that team officials and community leaders come up with a location that will benefit the entire region and ensure the team a long future in the Tampa Bay area. He did say he would oppose plans to build a stadium on St. Petersburg’s historic waterfront.
Wagman’s position on the Rays’ controversial stadium stands in stark opposition to current Mayor Rick Baker’s demand that the stadium be built in St. Petersburg. In an article in The St Petersburg Times on January 13, 2009, Baker made his position known on any potential stadium clear: It’s only happening within the city limits. St. Petersburg City attorney John Wolfe sent a letter to A Baseball Community ( Baseball Consulting Group) attorney Charlie Harris saying the city would only approve a stadium project within the city of St. Petersburg. (Wolfe also made clear the city has not taken a position whether or not to support a new stadium even within St. Petersburg).Wolfe also reminded the Rays that they are bound by an agreement to play Major League Baseball in the city until 2027. “Needless to say, the city would not even consider an amendment to the agreement for a venue outside of the city,” Wolfe wrote.
During their coffee chatter, fellow St. Petersburg mayoral contender Deveron Gibbons just called Wagman’s position on possibly letting the Rays leave St. Petersburg “crazy.” He also added to a St. Petersburg Times reporter, “That comment shows a complete lack of sensitivity for the folks who lived in the Gas Plant area and gave up so much to get baseball here,” Gibbons said, referencing the forced relocation of a predominantly African-American neighborhood to make way for what is now Tropicana Field. “The people that gave up so much, that means nothing to Scott Wagman?” Like Wagman, Gibbons said the waterfront should be off-limits to the Rays. But, Gibbons said, “we ultimately have to figure out how to keep the Rays here.”
Wagman isn’t taking Gibbons’ attack lightly. Wagman called the St. Petersburg Times to issue his response to Gibbon’s comments.” By insisting that the stadium be built in St. Petersburg, Gibbons and mayoral hopeful Jamie Bennett are making sure county taxpayers won’t be willing to help cover construction costs and St. Petersburg will be stuck with the tab,” Wagman said. “If you are not open to other things, if you are insisting upon St. Petersburg, why would other areas be interested in helping?” Wagman said. “It’s small-minded and imprudent.” Wagman did say the stadium should stay in Pinellas. He added that a new stadium won’t help African-Americans. Job creation will, he said.
Officially, this deal has no direct impact in Tampa Bay. But with the Florida Marlins getting their stadium situation done first, it takes them out of the MLB doghouse and firmly implants the Rays at least within MLB’s watchful eyes right now. But the Miami deal is not totally done in stone yet, Miami has to be able to secure the financial bonds needed to complete the project. but with those bonds secured, Tampa Bay and Oakland will graduate to the position of Major League Baseball’s neediest franchises. but with the state of Florida pinching pennies right now to even come up with their state budget, could the Rays be out of luck for at least the next 5-10 years?
There will be more discussions and recommendations before all of this is said and done. But the centerpiece of this whole controversy has to be the Tampa Bay Rays remaining in the Pinellas county area. One of the sites listed above, Carillion Park is situated between two off ramps to I-275, and is within minutes of most places in Tampa. but the congestion of traffic and infrastructure might make the area deemed unfit for 81 games a year. There will be endless discussions and arguements over this project before it can finally find solution. But with the recent winning of the Rays, will these discussions have more of a quicker resolution, or will they still stay at a snails pace?
photo credits: 1) www.raysbaseball.com