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Community group pushing for new Tampa Bay Rays home to take a break

CLEARWATER — Formed nearly two years ago, a community group pressing for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays agreed Tuesday to recess until given a new mission.

"We'll be available, but not active," said Jeff Lyash, chairman of the ABC Coalition. "We may be (given a new task), but that task is not clear right now."

Today's presentation of the board's final report at the Hillsborough County Commission will be the last one made by the coalition, at least for a while.

The coalition was created in 2008 by then-St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker after a Rays proposal for a downtown waterfront stadium was scuttled. Baker asked Lyash, a Progress Energy executive, to assemble business and community leaders to study whether a new stadium was needed to replace Tropicana Field, where the Rays are signed to play until 2028.

But Tropicana Field wouldn't get enough support and revenue to sustain a competitive team, the coalition concluded. So its members examined possible stadiums sites, some of which were in Hillsborough County. In response, St. Petersburg officials stopped attending the meetings. City Attorney John Wolfe warned that any discussion of moving the Rays from downtown would be viewed as tampering with the city's contract with the club, and could spark legal action.

Despite being denied the chance to deliver its findings to the St. Petersburg City Council, the coalition did present its final report to various other boards, including the Pinellas County Commission, the Tiger Bay Club and the Tourist Development Council.

"We did our job," said Craig Sher, chairman of the Sembler Co. and an ABC Coalition board member. "We started a conversation."

Where that conversation will lead is anyone's guess. The Rays aren't talking with St. Petersburg and vice versa. And while the Rays have racked up baseball's best record (28-11), its attendance ranks 20th.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

Community group pushing for new Tampa Bay Rays home to take a break 05/18/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 12:52am]

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