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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Baseball and tourism, the studies begin

Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have suspended efforts to build a new waterfront ballpark in St. Petersburg, the team's stadium quest suggests a ship in search of a port.

With no new home identified, and indications that the process will take some time, stakeholders are turning to close study of how baseball and a new ball park could affect tourism in Pinellas County. It's arguably work that should have been done long ago.

At a meeting today of Pinellas County's Tourism Development Council, Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt said the team had hired a Tallahassee consultant to perform an economic impact study. And the TDC's research consultant, Walter Klages, is also at work on a study.

It's expected that both will be completed by Sept. 10, the next time the council meets.

Use of the county's tourism bed tax could play a crucial role in financing a new ball park, which explains the interest of the TDC.

In recent weeks, Klages has interviewed fans at Rays home games with the Marlins, Cubs, Astros, Red Sox and Royals. The goal is to figure out where folks are coming from and whether they are staying in local hotels.

Klages did similar work back in 1995, when St. Petersburg was in the hunt for a professional team. That work found that baseball would draw nearly 90,000 new visitors a year, producing an initial economic impact of nearly $43-million.

Klages told the TDC that his projections then were borne out, but said his new study will likely show an even greater impact.

The TDC steered clear of any overall policy discussion of using the bed tax to support a new stadium, and the highlight was perhaps a question posed to the room by St. Petersburg council member Leslie Curran.

"If we do make the playoffs and the World Series," she asked, "would Bud Selig have trouble going to Tropicana Field then?"

-- Will Van Sant, staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:29am]


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