Buzz for new waterfront Rays ballpark in Pinellas doesn't worry Hillsborough. Here's why.
TAMPA — A new entry in the Tampa Bay Rays ballpark site search drew a lot of buzz over the weekend when it was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
Revelations that the Rays are considering a parcel in Snug Harbor in St. Petersburg evoked visions of a waterfront stadium where people drive their boats up to the ticket gates. Its location near the Gandy Bridge could make it easier to draw from residents on both sides of Tampa Bay.
But reading the tea leaves, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan thinks it might actually be promising development for those lobbying the Rays to move across the bay.
For one, the Snug Harbor location doesn’t meet many of the search criteria the team laid out in February. Other than a scenic backdrop along the water and better accessibility to Hillsborough and Pasco county fans, it’s not a spot ripe for urban development nor could it easily draw off potential corporate partners. “Local authenticity” was also at the top of list as was “accessible community asset” and this wouldn’t meet that.
Melanie Lenz, who is leading the Rays' ballpark search, told the Times that the Snug Harbor parcel is "certainly one of many sites that we're taking a serious look at." But Hagan thinks the Rays are entertaining that site as a “courtesy.”
“That Snug Harbor site was enticing from the water aspect but it’s not an urban environment,” Hagan said. “And I don’t even know about the fill that’s needed and access issues.”
“I don’t see that one being a … ” he said, before trailing off.
Further, Snug Harbor is one of 17 sites Pinellas County commissioners are now floating for a potential new stadium. Meanwhile, St. Petersburg Mayor Kriseman continues to lobby for the Rays to build a new ballpark near the existing Tropicana Field as part of a redevelopment project at that site.
Hagan said that may signal a lack of cohesion between the two governments. In Hillsborough, Hagan is spearheading a group of local officials, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and business leaders who meet frequently to discuss sites and strategies, sometimes with Rays executives.
“One thing I learned early in this process from studying other communities is it’s really important for the city and county to be aligned from the start of this process,” Hagan said. That’s why it’s really important for Bob Buckhorn to be a part of my committee and we are in lockstep on that.
“I think that could potentially be an issue for them down the road,” he added. “As far as I know the Rays haven’t met with St. Pete or Pinellas County in a long time.”