An intriguing idea in the wrong spot

Pinellas County Commission vice chairman Ken Welch, center, and his fellow commissioners listened to the presentation Friday by developer Darryl LeClair and his team at CityScape.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Pinellas County Commission vice chairman Ken Welch, center, and his fellow commissioners listened to the presentation Friday by developer Darryl LeClair and his team at CityScape.

The charts were interesting, and the drawings were spectacular.

If you sat through a developer's two-hour presentation of "Rays Park at Carillon'' on Friday, you might be convinced it was the perfect answer to Tampa Bay's remarkably expanding attendance woes.

Unfortunately, it is not.

It may one day be a last-resort answer. It may be tweaked enough to qualify as a best-we've-got answer. But it is a long, long way from the perfect answer.

If I had to guess, I'd say about 15 miles away.

Please understand, this is not meant to be an insult to CityScape's vision. They have invested a lot of time and money in this project, and it's an idea well worth exploring.

But I have a hard time believing the Rays will embrace it any time soon.

If you have not discerned it by now, the Rays are hopeful of exploring a new stadium in downtown Tampa. They have never actually said this, but nor have they said B.J. Upton will soon be walking out the door. You just sort of accept it as the way things are.

Here's the bottom line:

For all the cool graphics and ideas at the Carillon site, it is still just a few minutes north of the Tropicana Field location. And that, by any measure, has been a disaster.

The Rays are last in Major League Baseball in average attendance. Mind you, this is a team coming off consecutive playoff appearances, is in the midst of another pennant chase and potential 90-win season, and is still dead last in attendance.

I'm not suggesting we debate the reasons again. Suffice to say, there are plenty. Some are totally legitimate, and well beyond the average fan's control.

But owner Stu Sternberg has to look at last-place attendance during a team's glory years, and wonder what will happen when it eventually has a losing season.

In other words, he has to have deep, deep reservations about this market.

And that means he is going to hold out for the perfect stadium. Anything else does not make sense. Anything else is a $600 million mistake.

Now the CityScape folks did a nice job of addressing some concerns. They talked about the number of corporations nearby, and the disposable income among residents within a 30-minute drive.

The stadium design itself was fascinating, and they had some interesting ideas about building it as part of a multi-use project even if their space and finance projections seemed drastically optimistic.

At the very least, the presentation is worthy of a dignified response. And that means the Rays are now up to the plate.

Granted, this puts Sternberg in a tricky spot. If he shoots down Carillon he runs the risk of alienating the fans he does have in Pinellas. That won't help in the short term at Tropicana Field, or even the long term if fans eventually have to drive to Tampa.

Still, the Rays wanted a discussion and now they have one.

So perhaps this is the impetus to finally talk seriously. To explain why mid-Pinellas may not be any better than downtown St. Pete. To point out the potential advantages at Channelside, or any other site the Rays might be eyeing.

Citizens in Pinellas County have been on the hook for Tropicana Field for nearly 25 years. Folks in Hillsborough may one day contribute to a stadium of their own. This has to be a partnership.

And we need to hear what our partners are thinking.

An intriguing idea in the wrong spot 09/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 12:08am]

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