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Developer's plan places Tampa Bay Rays in downtown Tampa

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TAMPA — A Hillsborough County developer has been quietly shopping around renderings for a new downtown Tampa entertainment complex that includes a Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium, a copy of which was obtained Wednesday by the St. Petersburg Times.

The proposed development spans from the Garrison Channel to Jackson Street and includes parks, offices and shops.

Meanwhile, a former Tampa mayor confirmed he also is working on a project at the Florida State Fairgrounds that could include a baseball stadium if the Rays come calling.

That information came out Wednesday as Hillsborough County commissioners discussed inviting a business group that is studying options for the Rays' future to give them a presentation. Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who is requesting the presentation, confirmed that he is aware of both efforts to identify potential homes for the team in Hillsborough. He emphasized that he is not backing any particular plan.

Hagan said he is simply trying to open a dialogue to show Hillsborough County cares about the team's importance to the region, not just Pinellas County. He wants to start by hearing the report from the ABC Coalition, the business group that has been studying the Rays future and has made suggestions for a future home for the team.

"I feel very strongly that every government in our region should hear the findings of the coalition and to do everything they can to ensure that the Rays stay in the Tampa Bay region," Hagan said.

Pinellas County officials indicated Wednesday they will now seek to hear the report as well. St. Petersburg City Council members have thus far refused to review the coalition's findings after learning that three of five prospective future homes it has identified are in Hillsborough County.

They include downtown Tampa, the fairgrounds and the West Shore area of Tampa.

Two Hillsborough commissioners cautioned Hagan against appearing to interfere with the Rays' contract. Commissioner Jim Norman said any such discussion should be led by Major League Baseball and its commissioner, Bud Selig. County Commissioner Rose Ferlita cautioned that any action by the commissioner could be used by the Rays as leverage in its negotiations with St. Petersburg.

"I think right now we need to leave things alone," Ferlita said.

Claire Clements, president of Land and Sand Realty, is circulating downtown Tampa stadium site plans with her company's name on them to community leaders.

The map shows a stadium nestled between Meridian Street to the east and the Crosstown Expressway to the west, and between Whiting Street to the north and Cumberland Avenue to the south. Home plate is on the Cumberland side, so fans could look north and west toward downtown.

Part of the stadium footprint appears to sit on land owned by the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, which would require government approval.

To the south, toward Channelside, a smaller part of the property would contain shops and offices, with a little green space for strolling. A dog park, sculpture garden and neighborhood park are drawn in north of the stadium.

In total, the parcel appears to occupy at least 25 to 30 acres. The rendering is labeled "Rays Stadium, Downtown Tampa Concept Plan'' and was prepared by Land and Sand Realty.

Clements, the realty's president, declined comment. The daughter of a citrus farmer, Clements has been active in the sale and development of land in rural parts of west-central Florida, particularly in the Citrus Park and Keystone areas.

Salvatore Italiano, who owns one parcel where the proposed stadium would sit, told the Times on Monday that he couldn't discuss whether someone was negotiating to buy his property. That was echoed Wednesday by another landowner.

W.D.F. Enterprises owns nearly an acre on the north side of Channelside Drive.

When asked if the company had sold an option on the land, director William D. Fanizzi of Fort Lauderdale hesitated and then said, "I really can't discuss that at this time.''

East County businessman Sam Rashid said he has seen the rendering, but declined to say what he knows of the players in the deal. He was impressed, he said, because the plan does not rely heavily on public financing.

Meanwhile, former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco confirmed Wednesday that he and Tampa lawyer David Mechanik met with Hagan two or three weeks ago to talk about a potential project they are working on at the fairgrounds. Greco said he is working as a consultant to a company he would not identify that is considering making a development proposal to the governing agency of the fairgrounds. He declined to discuss details of the idea.

"The fairgrounds could house a number of things," Greco said.

Although the fairgrounds' 330 acres have room for a stadium and Greco said that could be a possibility for the property, he added that "this thing that I'm looking at has nothing do with baseball driving it."

Hagan said that jibed with his recollection of the discussion, adding that a soccer stadium was also mentioned as a possibility. He said the conversation covered a range of topics.

Mechanik said only that, while he has had conversations with people who have said the fairgrounds might make a good stadium site, "I'm not working with anybody who's saying that."

If Major League Baseball is following the machinations, Selig, who was in St. Petersburg for the annual governor's baseball dinner, wouldn't let on. He merely reiterated statements from the past that the Rays need a new stadium before their current contract at Tropicana Field expires.

"It almost boggles my mind that there is room for debate,'' Selig said. "They need a new stadium.''

Times staff writers Janet Zink, David DeCamp, Michael Van Sickler and Richard Danielson contributed to this report.

Developer's plan places Tampa Bay Rays in downtown Tampa 02/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 18, 2010 10:48am]
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