Rays Will Not Seek November Referendum For Stadium
Suncoast NewsST. PETERSBURG - The Tampa Bay Rays announced this afternoon that they will abandon their ambitious plans to build a $450 million stadium on the downtown waterfront by 2012.
Published: June 25, 2008
Published: June 25, 2008
Rays President Matt Silverman said at a news conference that the team will no longer seek a November referendum on the open-air, 34,000-seat ballpark the team proposed at the site of Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field.
"While we still believe in the vision we put forth seven months ago, and of its transformational value, we are withdrawing that proposal and we are no longer seeking a November referendum on the waterfront ballpark," Silverman said.
Several St. Petersburg and Pinellas County leaders had complained that the city and county were being rushed to commit millions of public dollars for the controversial project. Silverman suggested that was a factor in the team's decision.
"There's not been sufficient support for the timeline we put forth that would have resulted in a November referendum," he said.
The county commission was scheduled to make a final decision July 22 on the Rays' request for $100 million in tourist tax money to help finance the new stadium. The city, which would contribute $75 million, was to have taken final action by Aug. 7 to have a stadium referendum appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Now the stadium proposal has been delayed indefinitely, with no clear timetable for the project.
Developing a new timeline will be among the tasks of a community-based coalition announced Wednesday that will consider alternative sites for a new ballpark.
Besides Progress Energy Park, the coalition will look at other locations as well as the team's current home at Tropicana Field, which the Rays proposed demolishing and replacing with a massive mixed-use community.
The group will be headed by Progress Energy President Jeff Lyash. Asked whether the coalition would consider stadium sites in Hillsborough County, Lyash said he did not wish to speculate on that possibility, but he did not rule it out either.
Silverman and Mayor Rick Baker, however, said they expected the group to look at potential sites only in the St. Petersburg area, possibly the former Toytown landfill site off Interstate 275 and Derby Lane on Gandy Boulevard, both in the Gateway area of northernmost St. Petersburg.
Baker said he supported the Rays' decision to step back and allow the community to take a more active role.
"I think it's a very positive move because it's going to expand the discussion and help the community be the major component of that discussion," the mayor said. "It was the community that led the effort before to bring us a baseball team, so I think it's a positive thing."
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who was against the waterfront site, agreed.
"There has always been a need for this to be a community-wide effort," Welch said. "The Rays started this discussion and got us this far, but it is now time for the community to assume leadership of these efforts."
Bob Buckhorn, a member of the Tampa Sports Authority and former city councilman, said delaying the stadium vote is reasonable in light of the current economic downturn.
"Getting the community buy-in takes a long time," Buckhorn said. "Tampa will always be an option, but their preference, I think, is to stay in St. Petersburg and to allow the citizens of St. Petersburg to make their best effort to make the deal work and to make the stadium happen."
Besides examining stadium locations, the coalition will look at such things as fan base and corporate support for the Rays in an effort to ensure the team's long-term success, Baker said.
Meanwhile, St. Petersburg will continue to negotiate with Arlington, Va.-based developer Archstone-Madison, which the city council chose last week to redevelop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site.
Archstone-Madison has said it would be interested in redeveloping the area around Tropicana Field if the dome is not demolished.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said while visiting Tropicana Field on Saturday that he always considered the dome as "Plan B" if the stadium referendum failed at the polls.
"It's not raining in here, the humidity is fine, it's 72 degrees," he said. "We, fortunately, made the difficult decisions over the last few years to refurbish the place and put a lot of dough into it, because you always sort of need a Plan B."
Reporters Mike Salinero and Marc Lancaster contributed to this report. Reporter Carlos Moncada can be reached at (727) 451-2333 or firstname.lastname@example.org.