ST. PETERSBURG — The leader of a group studying the Tampa Bay Rays' $450-million waterfront stadium proposal said Tuesday rejecting the plan may be the end of Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg.
Steve Raymund, co-chairman of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce's baseball task force, said that if St. Petersburg won't build the Rays a new stadium, some other city will.
St. Petersburg's lease with the team, which will not expire until 2027, is unlikely to stop the Rays, Raymund said.
"The reality is that the Rays say they need a new stadium to remain viable, that it's critical to their organization," said Raymund, the former chief executive of Tech Data. "If it's not here, it'll be somewhere else."
Officially, the Rays have said they will remain in St. Petersburg if a new ballpark is not approved by voters. But principal owner Stuart Sternberg also has said that the team will not be playing in Tropicana Field in 2027 when the lease expires.
If the team attempts to leave, it would be required to pay the remaining debt on Tropicana Field. Right now, that's about $89-million.
The chamber is studying all aspects of the Rays' plan and has yet to take a position on the proposal, president John Long said.
But chamber officials realize what's at stake, they say. In a letter to Mayor Rick Baker and City Council members Tuesday, Long, Raymund and two other chamber officials asked the council to provisionally place the stadium question on the November ballot at a meeting June 5.
Chamber officials said the city could then delay a final decision on the referendum until Aug. 7 without quashing the Rays' proposal.