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Victor Crist has a curious baseball trade proposal

Tampa has a port with a bridge in front of it that blocks the latest mega-cruise ships from entering.  

St. Petersburg has a professional baseball team that wants to look on the other side of the bay for a new stadium location.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist is tossing out a novel, if somewhat quixotic-sounding  idea: How about a trade?

Maybe Tampa , its port, or the Hillsborough County could somehow assist in developing a new cruise ship port on the other side of the Sunshine Skyway bridge, potentially to the benefit of Pinellas County. It could be built to accommodate large ships, keeping the cruise business humming or even expanding in the Tampa Bay region.

In exchange, the city of St. Petersburg should let the Tampa Bay Rays look at stadium options in Hillsborough, warding against another major regional asset leaving.

“That’s how we should be talking,” Crist said in an interview Thursday. “What do we have that you can grow and improve and what do you have that we could grow and improve, instead of hoarding.”

Crist said he has talked to officials in other counties about ideas for greater collaboration in the port business, as a member of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. He acknowledged he has not talked to Pinellas or St. Petersburg officials about baseball.

Since he has been on the County Commission , Crist, a former state legislator, has repeatedly talked about the need for greater regional cooperation. The Port of Tampa has been his recurring case in point.

The port is increasingly facing land constraints that restrict how much it can expand commercial and industrial business. So he says officials with the port should be reaching out to the Port of Manatee , which has room to grow, to see if there are ways the two can team up.

Before joining the commission, Crist said he was aware that the cruise ship industry was evolving to larger ships that the now mid-size ones that account for the bulk of the Port of Tampa ’s business. The larger ships can’t make it beneath the Skyway. So why not expand the port to the other side of the bridge?

“The bottom line is the bigger ships are where the industry is moving toward,” Crist said. “Or smaller boutique ships.”

While a big ship port, possibly near Egmont Key or the Skyway, may not directly benefit the city of St. Petersburg , which built Tropicana Field to lure the Rays, Crist says the port could help that city develop a boutique cruise business. He said boutique cruise lines generally make more picturesque waterfront cities their ports of call and Tampa doesn’t seem to attract them.

A St. Peterburg boutique cruise port might, perhaps at the site of the soon-to-be redeveloped Pier.

Crist said he introduced a list of 12 areas where there are opportunities for greater regional cooperation before the planning council about 7 weeks ago. Port concerns topped the list and a task force convened two weeks ago to look at that and other issues. Pro sports franchises were further down the list.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 5:55pm]


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