Measure to thwart ballpark could get on ballot

12/13/07 Mitch E. Perry
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Officials with the Tampa Bay Rays were scheduled to meet with Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch today.

Welch told the St. Petersburg Times today that he was disappointed the Rays had not reached out to commissioners since the board will play an important part of the proposal to redevelop Tropicana Field.

Redeveloping the current home of the Rays is central for the financing of the proposed new $450-million waterfront ballpark, which faces a number of challenges.

The Rays are working with St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and local neighborhood associations, trying to sell their plan. The only time St. Pete residents will officially be asked to approve is a ballot measure next year approving approval of any deal involving a long-term lease of city-owned waterfront property such as Al Lang.

But there is now talk of a competing ballot measure that would require that no taxes be used for the construction of a new park.

David McKalip is the leader of the group Cut Taxes Now. He’s not certain if he’ll go ahead with such a measure, but says it won’t be enough simply to organize.

As currently proposed, $60-million in funding for the proposed park would come from a state sales tax rebate and up to $300 million dollar from the sale and redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. McKalip says knowing that, he can’t believe the Rays are telling people taxpayer funds aren’t being asked from the community.

Jack Tunstill is chairman of the airport advisory committee at Albert Whitted Airport. He’s extremely skeptical about the ball park proposal as well. He says that when it comes to hyping the redevelopment of Tropicana Field, he’s heard it all before.

Tunstill says Rays officials have been in contact with him, and want to address the Albert Whitted Airport Advisory Committee. Tunstill says that when he told them that couldn’t happen until January, they asked if they could meet with him individually sooner. That meeting will happen next week.

Tunstill says in his unscientific survey of airport officials who actually live in St. Petersburg, he hasn’t heard anybody voice support for the ballpark as currently proposed.

McKalip says he will decide relatively soon if he’s willing to put the time and money behind am anti-ballpark referendum.

The Rays plan to speak with as many neighborhood associations as possible, but they were criticized for keeping quiet on the issue before the City Council elections last month.

WMNF will air more comments from Jack Tunstill from Albert Whitted Airport in a followup story. Tunstill will discuss the various design issues the proposed park will have to contend with.

WMNF hopes to speak with Rays officials soon.

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