Where will Tampa Bay Rays land? We hear from Foster and Buckhorn

01/30/12 Janelle Irwin
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The Mayors of St. Petersburg and Tampa are both hoping to be the long-term host of the Tampa Bay Rays. St. Pete’s mayor, Bill Foster wants to keep major league baseball and Tampa’s mayor, Bob Buckhorn, thinks the team could land east of the Bay. At a Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting last Wednesday, Foster said the Rays are contractually obligated to stay in St. Pete for at least another 15 years.

Stuart Sternberg, owner of the Tampa Bay Rays, is considering moving the team because he says playing at Tropicana Field is not sustainable in the long-term. Sternberg has said he won’t consider a new stadium location in Pinellas if he isn’t also allowed to look in Hillsborough. But Mayor Bill Foster said that’s not going to happen.

“You have an obligation to our taxpayers to put a baseball team on the field through 2027. Right now it’s 2012. So that’s the biggest term. I always use marriage analogies and yes we’re married. You don’t get a weekend pass to look at the greener grass that could be somewhere else. No, we are committed. Now we’re committed in the partnership and I want to be the best husband, the best wife, the best partner, I want to be all of that to the Tampa Bay Rays. We have a proactive plan that’s not a secret. We have a proactive plan that talks about marketing.”

At an event with Hillsborough and Pinellas Young Democrats on Tuesday night, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he can “flirt” with the Rays but he can’t “consummate the deal”. But in the event there is a split between the baseball team and St. Petersburg, Buckhorn said the best place for a Rays stadium is in downtown Tampa.

“People say, ‘well, why don’t you put it where RayJay is?’ Well, think about the economic impact of Raymond James Stadium. Except for Chili’s and Mons Venus, nothing goes on. There’s no hotels, there’s no retail, there’s no commercial development, there’s no residential, it just doesn’t happen. You put that downtown stadium in the urban quarter somewhere between Ybor City and downtown Tampa, all of sudden Ybor’s connected to Tampa. Now Channelside works. You’ve got 80 games a year, 20,000 fans a game. You have changed the dynamic of downtown Tampa. The Riverwalk all of a sudden comes alive.”

The city considered turning the Al Lang Stadium site into a waterfront stadium back in 2008, but a referendum to build it was indefinitely postponed. Suncoast Tiger Bay member Barry Wilkinson said the idea of giving up a stadium with air-conditioning for one without doesn’t make any sense.

“It’s a little bit frustrating to watch the drill that they went through to plan and pretend that they’re going to build an open air stadium in the old Al Lang Stadium when I’ve been to the stadium in the summer time. I mean it’s incredibly uncomfortable. It’s not an outdoor venue. The teams in Miami don’t go to their games outdoors. I don’t know why they think they’d go here.”

Rays’ leaders have said they don’t think the downtown St. Pete area can foster the kind of attendance they need. They have considered possible other Pinellas sites around the Gateway area. Foster and Sternberg had a sit down meeting this month, but were unable to come to an agreement. Unless something changes, the Rays will stay in St. Pete this season.

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