Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Waterfront Rays stadium site surfaces near Gandy Bridge

ST. PETERSBURG — When you think Tampa Bay, you think water, right?

So how about a new waterfront baseball stadium that's in St. Petersburg but close to Tampa, complete with boat slips, a marina and bay views?

The Snug Harbor site on Gandy Boulevard could be just the latest fresh face in a parade of locations discussed and dismissed since 2008, but it has some advantages:

At 39 acres, it's large enough for a stadium and all the extras the Rays envision. It's owned by a local couple who wants to sell, which could simplify negotiations. The nearby roads are already slated for substantial improvements, easing access to the somewhat isolated property. It's a natural stop for the proposed Tampa to St. Petersburg ferry, if that initiative ever materializes. It's also in a county that has already reserved bed tax money for a new ballpark.

And, perhaps most importantly, the Rays are interested.

 

"This is certainly one of many sites that we're taking a serious look at," said Melanie Lenz, who is leading the Rays' effort to find a new stadium. She said the team learned of the site a few months ago, though she declined to detail the site's pros and cons.

In recent months, leaders of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce contacted the property owners, Ronald and Deborah Roseman of Belleair Shore, who assembled the land more than a decade ago. The energy magnate and his wife agreed to add the former mobile home park to the list of potential stadium sites.

The Rosemans did not return a call for comment. Colliers International Tampa Bay is marketing the property for $30 million and calling it a "one of a kind development opportunity in Tampa Bay."

"You could get in your boat and go to a game from Tampa," said David Bernstein, an attorney who represents the Rosemans. "You could get in your boat and go to a game from St. Petersburg."

The property wasn't on the list of 10 locations recently touted by Pinellas County officials to keep the team from fleeing to Hillsborough County. Two weeks ago, county commissioners asked staffers to add more St. Petersburg parcels to the list, even though Mayor Rick Kriseman favors Tropicana Field.

Related: Pinellas County's 17 possible sites for a Rays ballpark

Since then, Snug Harbor has emerged as a dark horse candidate for keeping the team in the city.

Rick Mussett, a former top city development administrator who is coordinating the "Baseball Forever" campaign, said the city didn't want to discuss alternate sites, including Snug Harbor.

"Our position really hasn't changed," Mussett said. "We're focused on the Trop site."

Chamber chairman Greg Holden said the organization supports Kriseman's plan, but approached the Rosemans about the Snug Harbor site because it wanted, above all, to keep the Rays in Pinellas County.

"We have to think big and see what else looks good if the Rays don't want to stay at the Trop site," Holden said.

Last week, the Snug Harbor site, fenced off and hard to see through Brazilian pepper bushes, looked forlorn in the summer heat. Mobile homes that used to occupy the property have long been demolished. Faded signs still advertise Riviera Harbor, a proposed housing development that never materialized.

Between 2003 and 2005, corporations owned by the Rosemans paid $17.3 million to buy the property. Since then, the site has lain dormant. Some "tire-kickers and bottom-feeders" inquired about the land in the lean years of the Great Recession, Bernstein said. But the Rosemans held on to the property.

"This was under the radar; sometimes the obvious escapes us," said Bernstein, the attorney. "It's nice to be in the discussion."

City Council member Jim Kennedy said the potential stadium site has interested him for a while.

"It's waterfront," he said. "Its acreage is more than sufficient. Its access on Gandy is good and will only get better."

Kennedy said planned road improvements on both sides of the bay in coming years will greatly smooth out current traffic woes on Gandy Boulevard between Interstate 275 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in Tampa.

But Snug Harbor has drawbacks. The property, like most of the other potential stadium sites, is in a flood zone, which could add millions to the construction costs to pay for expensive fill to elevate the land. It's far from main north-south arteries such as I-275 and U.S. 19, and isn't very close to a business center flush with working professionals looking to buy baseball tickets.

Kennedy worries about the cost of running necessary infrastructure such as water, sewer and electricity sufficient for a stadium to Snug Harbor. He also said that two-lane San Martin Boulevard NE near the site is already getting busier with drivers using the road as a back door to Gandy. A new stadium would only magnify the problem, he said.

Kennedy, a fan of the Snug Harbor site, still thinks the Trop is still the best place for the Rays. It's city-owned and near the booming arts and entertainment districts.

Bruce Erhardt, executive director of land brokerage for Cushman & Wakefield in Tampa, agreed. Although intriguing, Snug Harbor isn't as accessible as other sites. It's about 3 miles to I-275. He's also concerned about the flood plain issues.

If Erhardt was advising the Rays, his first suggestion in Pinellas would be to redevelop Tropicana Field.

"Downtown St. Petersburg is a great site," Erhardt said. "It's a very, very vibrant market. Urban high-density is where it's at these days."

At least one Snug Harbor resident wouldn't object to his neighborhood getting some of that energy.

Gilbert Sanchez moved three months ago from New Tampa to Venetian Bay, a townhome development adjacent to the Snug Harbor site. The 49-year-old tennis coach at Berkeley Prep welcomed a stadium right down the street. He speculated that property values would rise in the neighborhood.

"I wouldn't mind at all," Sanchez said. "It's obvious they have to get a new place closer to Tampa so they get a lot more people."

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. [email protected]

 
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