R.I.P. Rays Downtown Stadium
The Tampa Bay Rays today pretty much officially announced that their endeavor to try and refocus the old Al Lang Stadium property into a pristine multi-million dollar baseball configuration has met its timely death. It’s death was officially deemed to a lack of sufficient life support based on certain community groups setting fires and probable law suits to stop even the surveying of the land.
Even though the POWW (Protect Our Wallets and Waterfront) group basically got their way in the matter, the issue is not over, but might just be refocused to an area just a bit north up the I-275 corridor to the Roosevelt Blvd/ Ulmerton Road area. I have to say that the original site of the new Rays stadium would have made a picture postcard scenic view, but with the St. Petersburg Pier maybe going bye-bye in the next several years due to city financial considerations and cut-backs, the background would have changed dramatically before the building was even half completed.
The St. Petersburg City Council is said to be preparing a re-zoning ordinance with a 75-foot height restriction to re-designate the Florida Progress/ Al Lang property for park use only. I am still maybe in the minority, but the American Playhouse Company, which is located in the downtown area has a yearly festival outdoors every May, and maybe just taking down the outfield fences and leaving the grandstands and berms would be a revitalization of the park as a outdoor concert venue for under 4,000 people. Of course this park venture is a long ways away, the council have not even had a formal public hearing on the matter yet.
The Tampa Bay Rays have concluded that the downtown site might just have been a huge oversight for the ballclub. And also words and conversations have been leaked that the current site of the stadium maybe being refitted or even constructing a completely different multi-purpose stadium on the adjacent parking area might also be put to rest in the downtown area. More and more there is whispers that the preferred site is farther up into the mid-county area where the bulk of the area’s population can have a 30-minute commute to the games.
That is the unseen basis of the decision to maybe move the team’s concentration out of downtown, and not the influence or badgering of the POWW group to the downtown site. What is that old business adage “Location, location, location”.
Best case scenario for any future talks about downtown ventures would be if the Albert Whitted airport property comes up in the next 10 years for a vote again and the citizens of St. Petersburg decide that the millionaries private toy parking lot might be better suited for other ventures. but that is wishing too far into the future right now, and might even be defeated by the same reasoning that Al Lang is now being dumped.
But the reality of it all is that the city of St. Petersburg in the 1970′s made a huge push to clean up and beautify the waterfront corridor beyond 1st Street, and any massive building, or thoughts of construction would be a detriment to that plan and ruin the eyesights of the high priced skyscraper currently under construction just beyond the Progress Energy Field walls.
Why now? Is there a reason the Rays are throwing this out today and not maybe waiting for a time when the team is winning impressively again to garner more public sentiment? With the team now leaving on a 6-game road trip to an area that recent granted the funds and future dreams of a multi-use facility in South Florida, could this be a nice political and financial diversion to show the reasoning for a roof in Florida. We might just see two of the game with a possible rain-out situation because of the current Low Pressure systems pounding the state with rain daily.
It might also be the best time to bring up the stadium change of venue while the team is away to cut down on distractions by fans, or even the local business community complaining within an audible range with the team at home. Now any calls would be directed to the spin doctors working on the project, and not have the field personnel or event employees trying to decipher the Rays thoughts in the matter.
“It’s pretty clear people did not want a ballpark down there,” Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt said in a St. Petersburg Times article Friday. “From what we’re seeing, we’re probably in that camp, too.
Really Michael? I enjoy reading about a 180 degree turn from the posturing of less than 6 months ago to this swift pursuit of pushing another area of Pinellas county because of the massive displeasure shown by a select group in downtown St. Petersburg. I mean I was all for the downtown project because it would make another significant landmark for the region that would get play almost 365 days a year either in sports reports or news articles mentioning the stadium in the sleepy hallow of St. Petersburg, Florida.
But in the process of the selection of a new proposed stadium site, you are moving to the original area most people in Tampa Bay first thought would be the site of the first stadium. I have to say I was almost convinced it was going to be in the Gateway region just beyond the city of St. Petersburg city limits back in the 1980′s, but pressure and infrastructure might have pushed it to downtown St. Petersburg. But today’s announcement that even a restructured facility next to the present stadium might also be a doomed project is another slap in the face to St. Petersburg.
“We think there are big issues with downtown St. Petersburg as a site,” Kalt said recently in the St. Petersburg Times. With the focus group A Baseball Community not yet sending out their recommendations for a future stadium site, could the Rays have a bit of inside information and be planning a positive strategic move to show favoritism for another site? We sometimes forget that baseball is a business first and foremost.
It is a venture to make money and also promote the community. But the reality of it all is that the team will focus and construct on the best area to get their investment dollars turned quickly and with a good profit margin.
The area now being floated out seductively and undercover by the Rays does have an huge positive factor to the Tampa commuters’ concerns voiced over the last several years. But the surrounding roads and by-ways will have to be addressed as well as the possible parking situation. I know where I park, I have not paid for parking at the stadium or a parking area near the stadium for 12 years.
But that is based more on my familiarity of the city, and not the region known area of parking “freebie” zones. In the mid-county area, those considerations would be out the window unless you worked at a neighboring company.
The announcement today was not a total shocker to me at all. In a way, it was a sigh of relief. I had the feeling of pushing that huge rock up the hill and having it fall daily with the idea of a downtown stadium. Too many variables were working against the Rays from the first words, but the dissing of even the present site being reconfigured kind of caught me by surprise.
We have seen in the last year the side-by-side building of two stadiums in New York City, so we know it can be done without huge side issues. But the fact remains that this is still in the infancy stages, and not even been put down on formal publicized plans yet. It might be speculation right now, but it is solid gut reactions that the mid-county sites will get a lot of press and consideration during the rest of 2009.
I personally think it is going to put an extra burden on those people coming up from the Sarasota and Manatee county areas for game. Plus put extra drive time and pressure on the Brandon and Southeastern Tampa Bay area fans. But in the pursuit of a better facility and a better revenue responsive stadium, the decision will be made by the guy in the suits on the third floor of the Trop.
We will get our voice, and we will get our time to throw out alternatives, but the decision is right in their hands and will ring with dollar signs first. But then after all, Baseball is fun for the entire family, a great way to show community support, and above all…………a business.