TAMPA — The woman behind a stadium plan for downtown Tampa says she didn't know much about baseball before her husband got invited to throw out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays game.
That "beautiful experience" was a year and a half ago, and ignited her interest in the sport. Soon after, Claire Clements learned that the team was looking for a new stadium and there was talk the Rays could leave town altogether. It got her thinking.
"If there comes a day where the Rays want to leave the bay area region, this would be an option," Clement said of the conceptual plan that resulted. "That would be up to them, not me. It's just a vision."
Clements wouldn't say Thursday who she is working with on the project. She wouldn't discuss what, if any, efforts there have been to lock up land in the Channel district for a possible stadium, or how such a deal would be financed.
Nor did she deny working with anyone else or trying to obtain rights to land. She said she's not working with the Rays in any fashion.
Clements, 53, stressed that she had no intention of going public with any of her efforts until the Rays indicate they intend to leave St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field. She said she believes something her mother says: "If you stir it, it stinks."
She spoke reluctantly Thursday after the Times obtained a rendering her real estate company commissioned for a proposed baseball complex in downtown Tampa. The plan includes shops, offices, parks, a waterfront hotel and a stadium on a site stretching from the Garrison Channel to Jackson Street.
She said, so far, that's all it is — a rendering, subject to change or abandonment. It's an option for keeping the Rays in the region should discussions go south in St. Petersburg.
"It's their business, it's not mine. If this concept helps maintain the team in our region for all the young families that like to go to baseball games, that's great," Clements said.
Clements is the president of Land and Sand Inc., a real estate business she runs from her home in Westchase. She grew up in Dade City, the daughter of a citrus farmer, and speaks with a strong Southern accent and is known for her salty tongue.
She is not well known as one of Hillsborough County's financial heavy hitters. And she is not notably active in the civic or political arena, giving modestly to political campaigns compared to other developers.
Licensed to sell and broker real estate since 1995, Clements has become known for buying and dividing rural land in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, sometimes sparking controversy along the way. Her work ranges from a residential subdivision and sand pit in Hernando County to office buildings on Linebaugh Avenue.
In the last decade, she lost two battles in the Keystone area of north Hillsborough when she sought support for development there, rankling members of the Keystone Civic Association.
"She's taught us to have suspicion of her motives and purposes," said Tom Aderhold, president of the civic association, which successfully fought to maintain a more rural feel to the area. Aderhold, a Republican running for the District 47 state House seat, said he felt Clements gave residents a false idea of the projects' benefits.
In 2001, Clements worked with the Oliva family of Oliva Tobacco Co. to try to build office buildings, a Publix and estate homes around Lake Fern, where they had owned land for decades. County commissioners eventually voted the project down.
Clements donated to former County Commission candidate Denise Layne, who once served as president of the Lutz Civic Association. Though Layne said she hasn't spoken with Clements in years, she wasn't surprised when she saw her name arise in connection with the Rays stadium.
"I kind of smiled and said, 'Whoa, Claire is all over the place!' " Layne said, describing Clements as "very cordial," despite the reputation she developed among some in the Keystone community.
Her husband is Alan Clements, who does in-store marketing campaigns for grocery stores around the world. He racked up so many frequent flier miles that he got invited to throw out the first pitch at a Rays game about 18 months ago.
Claire Clements found herself moved by the cheering crowd, the woman singing the national anthem, and families in the stands doing something wholesome together. She liked it.
She was aware of talks for a new Rays stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront that fell through. She began following the work of the ABC Coalition, a business group formed to recommend stadium options.
Clements said she began working on an idea more than a year ago, asking people's thoughts. She formed a corporation called Channel Town in February 2009, though her name was removed as its agent Monday, two weeks after an annual filing that still listed her as its manager. Clements declined to discuss the company.