Pinellas tourism board discusses Rays ballpark

07/09/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Although the pressure is off on making any immediate decisions, the Pinellas County Tourism Development Council today was still talking about the Tampa Bay Rays and a new ballpark to replace Tropicana Field.

Two weeks ago, the Rays opted to cancel plans for a possible referendum in November in St. Petersburg that would have asked local residents whether they approved using the waterfront for a new park. Questions about a lack of parking, and having an open air facility, gave many residents qualms. Now a committee, led by Progress Energy CEO Jeff Lyash, will be responsible for getting community involvement in a new ballpark proposal.

At the Tourist Council meeting today, Budget Committee Chairman Tim Bogott inquired about what a new economic inpact study might determine.

Research consultant Walter Klages has been working on a new economic study for months of people currently going to Rays games, but he said he couldn’t get that specific because nobody knows where the proposed ballpark eventually will be constructed.

Klages discussed a similar type of study that he conducted 13 years ago, three years before the Rays began playing at Tropicana Field. That study found that baseball would draw nearly 90,000 new visitors a year, with an initial economic impact of more than $40 million. Klages said it might be double of that now.

Carlen Peterson, vice mayor of Clearwater, said she wanted to make sure that taxes coming out of her part of Pinellas County came back to her residents. She asked that the new study reflect that.

Vice Chairman of the Tourist Council Russ Kimball asked if there was any way to collect data from those currently not attending Rays games, but who might if the stadium was located elsewhere.

Rays Senior Vice President Michael Kalt says the Rays have already been working on a tourism impact study, but pulled back on delaying it today after the waterfront ballpark proposal came off the board.

St. Pete City Councilwoman Leslie Curran, praised the Rays for dropping the waterfront park proposal. She also took a dig at Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who recently commented to ESPN magazine that he is not a fan of the Rays' current home.

Both economic studies are expected to be completed by the next Council meeting in September.

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