Folks sound off about new stadium proposal

02/22/08 Reif Russell Anderson
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The St. Petersburg City Council held a marathon listening session last night to hear public reaction to a proposed new waterfront stadium for the Rays baseball team.

It was the red shirts versus the white shirts at City Hall in St. Pete last evening. Hundreds of local citizens turned out to be seen and heard, with 109 of them speaking to the Council for three minutes apiece.

Wearing red were those against the proposal to tear down Tropicana Stadium and build a new home for the Rays along the water where Al Lang Field currently sits. Most cited the excessive costs to taxpayers and the impact of so much traffic downtown on game days.

Those who like the idea, many of them carpenters and tradesmen eager for the construction jobs that would be provided under the proposal that includes building a shopping center on the site of the “Trop” wore white T-shirt.

Several of last night’s speakers represented an organized local opposition group called Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront (POWW). One member, Hal Freedman, said he’s against the proposal because it would give the Rays a sweetheart deal that would unfairly burden Pinellas taxpayers. Freedman also expressed concern about how a new downtown stadium would negatively impact St. Petersburg’s renowned waterfront.

Kevin Hannigan was among the white-shirted supporters of the proposal to build a new mega-shopping center in place of the Tropicana Dome and a brand new ballpark for the Rays along the water downtown. Hannigan asked the City Council to share his trust of the Rays’ owners and to let the voters decide the issue in the fall.

Willie Radowski of downtown St. Pete reflected the wishes of many in attendance last night when she urged City Council members to take all the time necessary to gather information about the ultimate impacts of the proposal. She complained that the Rays organization is forcing the issue.

There will be two more public hearings, on April 10 and May 22, and a March 6 forum on alternative uses for Al Lang Field. A decision will be made by June 5 whether to authorize a November referendum on a new stadium.

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