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Tampa Bay Rays pull Charlotte naming rights off meeting agenda after objections

Charlotte County spent a decade and $12 million battling Mosaic, the world's largest phosphate company, over its plans to open new mines along the river that flows into Charlotte Harbor.

On Tuesday morning, the county was supposed to decide whether to allow the Tampa Bay Rays to rename their spring training stadium in Port Charlotte after the company they fought. If they said yes, it would become Mosaic Field at Charlotte Sports Park for 15 years.

Many Charlotte County residents reacted to the Mosaic offer the same way the Indianapolis Colts would regard an offer to rename their stadium "Whodat Field." Charlotte County Commissioner Adam Cummings called it "an outrageous slap in the face."

So at the last minute, the Rays asked commissioners to pull the item from the agenda.

That didn't quell the controversy, though, and it doesn't mean the proposal is dead. In effect, the Rays called a time out.

Commissioners said they had received more than 100 e-mails objecting to the deal, and a dozen people showed up in person to vent about the Rays' agreement with the county's longtime opponent.

Clarke Keller of Punta Gorda called it a "neon-lit monument to insensitivity." Ruth Bromberg of Port Charlotte warned that naming the stadium after "the biggest polluter in Florida" would chase away tourists. And several speakers suggested they would boycott all Rays spring training games if the deal goes through.

"It's just not the image that we would like to present for Charlotte County," commission chairman Bob Starr said.

Commissioner Tricia Duffy wondered if the Sierra Club — which has been critical of the deal — would step in and spend millions to sponsor the stadium the way Mosaic offered to do. Starr said surely someone else would step in, suggesting Florida Power & Light or developer Syd Kitson.

Rays officials have not responded to requests for comment. Mosaic officials could not be reached for comment either.

The county would get $75,000 a year for the 15-year term of the contract. The Rays' announcement of the deal did not say how much the team would get.

The Rays moved their spring training from St. Petersburg to Port Charlotte last year, after the facility underwent a $27 million facelift. The contract they signed with the county allows the team to sell the naming rights to the stadium, though the county can veto the deal.

If the Mosaic deal goes through, the mining giant's name will be on the park's interior and exterior signs, including the main scoreboard, all entry points, the marquee at the park's main entrance off State Road 776, the top of the dugouts and at the press box level behind home plate. Mosaic's trademark would also be included in various promotional materials.

In exchange the company will sponsor several community events each year, including a series of baseball clinics with the Rays staff for children from local nonprofit organizations. The company has also agreed to serve as sponsor for annual Charlotte County community nights at both Mosaic Field and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

When the news broke about the deal, some local residents objected because the county invested lots of time and money battling to keep its harbor clean of pollution.

"It's simply outrageous for the Rays to ask Charlotte County, which has been working to reinvent itself as a green community, to consider selling our primary public symbol to this greedy polluter," said Sue Reske with the Greater Charlotte Harbor Group of the Sierra Club.

Tampa Bay Rays pull Charlotte naming rights off meeting agenda after objections 02/09/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 3:35pm]

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