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Business owners mixed on stadium proposal

ST. PETE BEACH — The Tampa Bay Rays held an informational meeting on their plans for a waterfront stadium for beach businesses and residents at the Don CeSar on Tuesday.

Despite the potential impact on tourism in the area and a possible extension in the county hotel bed tax, the turnout was unimpressive.

Michael Kalt, the Rays' senior vice president of development and business affairs, gave a presentation to about 20 hoteliers, business owners and residents.

"The group that attended seemed very positive about the proposal," said Robin Grabowski, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the meeting.

The main question for business owners: Will the new stadium bring tourists to the beaches and is it worth extending the hotel bed tax to build it?

The county's 5 percent hotel bed tax generated about $25-million last year and $5.36-million of that went to paying off Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and two other sports facilities.

The Rays' waterfront stadium plans include extending the payments they receive, set to expire in 2015, for another 25 to 30 years.

Patricia Hubbard, whose family owns Hubbard's Marina in Johns Pass Village, was among the business owners in attendance who support the Rays' plans.

She said sports fans are easy to pick out when they frequent the shops and restaurants at the popular tourist attraction.

"Sports do attract tourists to our area and this stadium, it's so beautiful, it's going to enhance all of downtown and it will pull people to this area," Hubbard said.

Part of the Rays' pitch included the countywide economic engine the stadium would produce in return for continued hotel bed tax dollars, but not all business owners are convinced.

"If you look at the history, we've become quite skeptical of the impact that baseball has had on our community. It's not been as beneficial as it was once touted to us," said Gregg Nicklaus, co-owner of the Sirata Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach.

While he and many fellow hoteliers support any positive development in St. Petersburg, the extension of the bed tax to help fund a $450-million stadium is met with mixed feelings, Nicklaus said.

"The Rays' success brings so much to our community," he said, but still the question remains: "Can you justify spending those kinds of dollars for those infrastructure improvements?"

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

Business owners mixed on stadium proposal 06/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2008 1:26pm]

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