Public debate on Rays' stadium plan: Round 2

11

April

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tampa Bay Rays $450-million stadium plan goes back before the public starting at 6 o'clock tonight when the City Council holds a public forum on the potential redevelopment of Tropicana Field.

Hundreds of people, for and against the project, are expected at City Hall to voice their opinions on the Rays' plans. But the City Council is not expected to make any decisions tonight.

Opponents are urging people to start signing up to speak at 4 p.m. and are e-mailing potential talking points.

Proponents say they plan to present a petition of 100 business owners supporting a November referendum on the stadium and redevelopment proposal.

You can get up to speed on the Tropicana redevelopment proposals here. Otherwise, check back later for updates from tonight's meeting.

UPDATE (5:15 p.m.) -- We're here in City Hall about 45 minutes before tonight's public hearing. Already about 100 people have filed speaker cards in either favor, or opposition of the Rays' plan. About 65 of them are asking to address the council later tonight. For both sides, the event has turned into a mini-election, with everyone attempting to rustle support.

UPDATE (5:55 p.m.) -- Okay, five minutes until show time. The chamber already is full and council members are beginning to take their seat. Council chairman Jamie Bennett is in Washington D.C. tonight, so vice chairman Jeff Danner will be running the show. And for everyone keeping score, Mayor Rick Baker is in the house tonight.

UPDATE (6:20 p.m.) -- We're on our fourth speaker, architect and POWW member Steve Lange, who is reading (as fast as he can) a lot of information about the city's comprehensive plan. We've already heard two threats of a lawsuit and now Lange adds the possibility of recalling City Council members. Lange and others are asking the council not to hold a November referendum on the stadium proposal, saying its a waste of city resources and the Rays would be able to manipulate or dupe would-be voters.

UPDATE (6:50 p.m.) -- The Rays just made their case. President Matt Silverman and vice president Michael Kalt asked City Council members to stay the course and let voters decide on the proposal. So far, I'm calling speakers 12-8 against.

UPDATE (7:20 p.m.) -- I won't get to do this in the paper, but blogging is a different animal. So here goes. My favorite speech of the night goes to Lee Nolan. His best quote: "What is wrong with Tropicana Field? How about the sorriest team in all of professional sports." Ouch, Lee. The Rays won today.

UPDATE (7:45 p.m.) -- Unofficial numbers, but speakers so far are 28-26 against (this doesn't include the 100 business owners who submitted a petition supporting the Rays' proposal). Lorraine Margeson is at the mic, using her three minutes to raise questions about the soil underneath Tropicana Field. The site is the former home of a gas manufacturing plant. City officials say its not a serious issue. Margeson does not agree.

UPDATE (7:48 p.m.) -- Media darling Joan Martin just got her turn. She's the woman with making fashion statements with her "Save the Dome" gear. She again recalled her chance meeting with Richard Simmons at a Tropicana Field event. "Who voted you into the office? Was it the Rays or people like me?"

UPDATE (8:04 p.m.) -- A woman from Bayfront Tower just told the council: "I wouldn't put an addition on my house faster" than the Rays want to push this stadium proposal. An addition on the condo would probably be a tough sell...

UPDATE (8: 20 p.m.) --"I heard Miss Margeson talking to a reporter outside. She said 90 percent of the people in St. Petersburg were agains the Rays plan," said a man representing a union of construction workers. "I'll give you the best poll. Take it to the people of St. Petersburg."

UPDATE (8:30 p.m.) -- "The situation demands a referendum," said former council member Jay Lasita, who is working with one of the bidders to redevelop Tropicana Field. "You should never fear what the outcome of what the vote is going to be. They are the ones that pay the bills."

UPDATE (8:40 p.m.) -- A pro-stadium resident just wrapped up listing some of the positive environmental aspects of the Rays' proposal. In the back of council chambers, Hal Freedman (POWW leader) was cringing.

UPDATE (9:20 p.m.) -- My up to date, unofficial count: 113 for, 86 against.

UPDATE (9:45 p.m.) -- The final unofficial tally, between 115-for and 90 against. Michael Kalt has just declared victory. See you all tomorrow.

UPDATE (9:50 p.m.) -- I wanted to add one more quote before I shut the laptop down for the night. This one is from Hal Freedman, leader of POWW, who told council members his group is NOT against a referendum. Just against one without all the facts being known: "We have no problem with the public voting and in fact welcome it. (But) based on all the unknowns, there is no reason to rush this on the Rays schedule."

-- Aaron Sharockman, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Monday, December 21, 2009 12:34am]

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