WESLEY CHAPEL — The pitch from Jason Woody, a member of the Tampa Bay Rays 2020 advisory board, was right down the middle.
No curves. He didn’t ask for money or sponsorship pledges or even ticket purchases.
"You can help the cause by getting our word out,’’ Woody told a Tuesday breakfast meeting of the North Tampa Bay Chamber at Pasco Hernando State College’s Porter Campus.
Sign a petition. Write a letter of endorsement. Hang a banner in your office or a sign in your window, he said.
Gaining community support is part of the process of keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the region, and more specifically, playing future home games at a proposed stadium in Ybor City. The team, which has played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg since 1998, announced its new stadium site Feb. 9. The community outreach is beginning, with the North Tampa Bay Chamber one of the first to hear the request to become "friends of the Rays.’’ For details, see www.tampabayrays2020.com.
Woody, president and CEO of Lions Eye Institute for Transplant & Research Inc., pointed out the Ybor City site’s attributes, including its historical significance. It also is close to the Channelside district, where Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is spearheading a 50-acre, mixed-use neighborhood development called Water Street Tampa.
Approximately 1.6 million people live within 35 miles of the proposed stadium, and 850,000 people are within a 25-minute drive. That would include Wesley Chapel and other locales in the south central portion of Pasco County. Dade City is 38 miles from the stadium site, and New Port Richey is 40 miles away.
"Pasco County is going to be a very important part of the equation,’’ said Ken Jones, CEO of Third Lake Capital, an investment fund formed by the owners of Ashley Furniture. "Last time I looked, it wasn’t the St. Pete Rays or the Tampa Rays or the Clearwater Rays. It’s the Tampa Bay Rays, just like it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You have to have the whole region united.’’
Jones, also an advisory board member of the non-profit Tampa Bay Rays 2020, grew up in west Pasco. He made his comments in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times prior to Woody’s presentation.
Woody was unable to provide new details about the stadiums’s design, cost or financing, but that didn’t stop audience members from asking. People wondered if it would be covered with a retractable dome and where the rest of the financing would come from after subtracting the Rays’ contribution.
A retractable dome presents maintenance issues, Woody said.
And a potential funding source could be a hotel bed tax in Hillsborough County or a rental car surcharge. Doing so means tourists pay much of the expense.
Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore asked if the stadium plans included a role for mass transit (yes) and about possible parking problems.
"Parking is very tricky,’’ Woody acknowledged, because approximately 30 percent of spectators at sports and concerts use ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft.
You don’t want to build a mammoth parking garage only to find it obsolete, he said.
By the end of the 30-minute session, the North Tampa Bay Chamber agreed to sign a letter of support for the Tampa Bay Rays 2020 effort.
One question, shouted from the audience, lingered unanswered.
"How much will a hot dog cost?’’
Reach C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2