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City leaders: There won't be a baseball war

ST. PETERSBURG — Political leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay tried to tamp down the prospects of a second baseball war Friday, amid news that three locations in Hillsborough County are being discussed as a possible new home for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio wouldn't even talk about potential Tampa sites, "because any speculation would be construed as wanting them to move."

Iorio told the St. Petersburg Times she will not try to lure the Rays away from St. Petersburg.

"We've got to appreciate the whole region," she said.

And St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker made it clear he has every expectation the Rays will continue to play in St. Petersburg. The team and city have a legal agreement that keeps the Rays in St. Petersburg through 2027.

"The baseball battle was fought a long time ago," Baker said. "The expectation is that the Bucs play in Tampa and the Rays play in St. Pete. I think that's everybody's expectation."

The swift reactions were made necessary Friday after the advisory group studying stadium sites, A Baseball Community, said it is considering five areas for a new ballpark, including three in Hillsborough County.

The list includes downtown St. Petersburg and the Gateway area in Pinellas, along with the Westshore area, downtown Tampa and an area near the state fairgrounds in Hillsborough County.

The leader of the group, Florida Progress Energy CEO Jeff Lyash, said the committee has not focused on specific sites for a ballpark yet. Nor has it discussed a plan to finance its construction. Reports on each area are expected to be completed by August.

The group, which has no official authority, will ultimately make a recommendation to the St. Petersburg City Council and Pinellas County Commission. Both bodies prefer to keep the team in Pinellas.

"St. Petersburg invested a whole lot of dollars and a lot of blood, sweat and tears into getting baseball," St. Petersburg City Council member Herb Polson said. "And we have to fight until there's no air left in us to keep baseball inside the city."

Baker accused Lyash of overstepping his bounds by talking about Hillsborough possibilities.

"It's beyond the scope of what I asked Jeff to do," said Baker, who asked Lyash to lead the baseball study group. "I asked Jeff to help look at ways to help the Rays in St. Petersburg."

Hillsborough leaders, for their part, didn't sound too interested in picking a fight.

"I would just make sure the city of St. Pete has every opportunity to keep their team," said Hills­borough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe.

Even Hillsborough commissioner Rose Ferlita, who seemed excited by the possibility of luring the Rays across Tampa Bay, tempered expectations.

Ferlita also suggested a referendum in Hillsborough would be necessary, if it got that far.

"The Rays are our team, whether it's on the other side of the bridge or not," Ferlita said. "Wherever they are, we support them."

Times staff writer Jeff Harrington contributed to this report. Contact Aaron Sharockman at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

City leaders: There won't be a baseball war 06/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 29, 2009 9:20am]
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