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Tampa and St. Petersburg join forces to explore new stadium for Tampa Bay Rays

When it comes to baseball, relationships between Tampa and St. Petersburg have often been frosty, if not downright hostile.

Now business leaders from both sides of the bay have joined forces to try to get a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

They plan to study the economic impact of baseball, team income and expenses, and possible sources of stadium financing — both public and private.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, led by Chuck Sykes, came up with the idea in November, saying it wanted to draw Pinellas business interests into the project as well.

In May, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce came on board, with what the two groups are now calling the Baseball Stadium Financing Caucus.

Sykes and Progress Energy executive Mark Wimberly, who heads the St. Petersburg chamber, will lead as caucus co-chairmen.

"Keeping Major League Baseball in the community over the long haul is our key objective. There is a risk we could lose them," Wimberly said Thursday. "I don't believe there is a great deal of information out in the public or understanding by the public. We are helping the business climate, and we are educating the public. That's why we are doing it."

The caucus hopes to issue a white paper by year's end, but might extend that deadline, Wimberly said, "if that's what it takes to get it right."

For now, the group is steering clear of any discussions about the stadium location, which is the sticking point in an ongoing stalemate between the Rays and the city of St. Petersburg.

Mayor Bill Foster has said he will discuss new stadium possibilities before the Tropicana Field contract expires in 2027 — but only for locations in or near St. Petersburg.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg has said he will not discuss Pinellas locations unless the team also can explore possibilities in Hillsborough County.

"Our community does not have the readiness level to deal with the location issue," Sykes said. "But everyone is going to benefit from what we learn about financing. Let's hope we find some possible solutions, and that may drive us down the road toward location."

Neither Sykes nor Wimberly would pinpoint when they thought a new stadium should come out of the ground.

"Sternberg has said publicly that he doesn't want to wait five years," Sykes said. "The question is whether you believe that or not. I don't know if five years is the answer, but I don't think we have until 2027."

The group already has discussed baseball finance with the Rays and expects to continue, Sykes said. Because the Rays will have to contribute part of the stadium cost, he said, the caucus wants to understand the interplay between attendance-driven revenues, TV and radio income, revenue sharing and other income.

The caucus also wants to explore tradeoffs between stadium styles and revenue. How big must it be? Will foregoing a retractable roof save enough on construction costs to make up losing fans who won't brave heat, rain and lightning?

The caucus will explore possibilities for regional financing, though neither Sykes nor Wimberly elaborated.

"I only have questions right now," Sykes said. "We are going to have to look at these things."

The city and Rays are at loggerheads. Attendance at the Trop has been disappointing at best. And given the economy, neither taxpayers nor politicians have much enthusiasm for a new stadium.

But both men said they were confident that the Rays will stay in Tampa Bay and a stadium will be built eventually.

"I don't think the Rays want to leave the area," Wimberly said. "I really believe the community will come together and we will figure out a solution that suits all parties."

Baseball Stadium Financing Caucus

Chuck Sykes, president and CEO of Sykes Enterprises
Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce
John H. Hill, Jr., senior managing director of Hyde Park Capital Partners
Sandra W. Callahan, senior vice president and chief financial officer of TECO Energy
Dan LeClair, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer of AACSB International
David Mallitz, executive vice president and CFO of DeBartolo Holdings
Mark Wimberly, south coastal vice president of Progress Energy Florida
Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of St. Pete Chamber of Commerce
Arnie Stenberg, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of All Children's Hospital
Jeff Hearn, senior vice president of investments of Raymond James and Associates
David Punzak, attorney at Carlton Fields
Sidney W. Morgan, chief operating officer at JSA Healthcare
Brian Lamb, senior vice president at Fifth Third Bank

Source: Chuck Sykes

Tampa and St. Petersburg join forces to explore new stadium for Tampa Bay Rays 06/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 24, 2011 11:29am]
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