Wednesday, September 26, 2018
News Roundup

Darryl LeClair's dream of building a baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Carillon is no more

ST. PETERSBURG — The dream died quietly, nearly without comment.

Buried in a City Council agenda, the once-touted future home of the Tampa Bay Rays — or at least developer Darryl LeClair's vision of it — almost passed into oblivion without a word Thursday until council member Charlie Gerdes spoke up.

"Is that the property that the stadium was going to be on?" Gerdes asked at Thursday's meeting. The council was prepping for a meeting next week, when there will be a public hearing on the city's proposed development agreement with LeClair in the Gateway area.

"Yeah, same property," said Dave Goodwin, the city's planning and economic development director. "Very different plan."

The Rays have long sought to escape Tropicana Field, and in 2012 LeClair unveiled his site for the team's new home at his massive Carillon Office Park development on the northern edge of the city. The site was 16.45 acres south of Ulmerton Road between Carillon Parkway and Fountain Parkway N. LeClair presented his idea as a solution to the long-standing stalemate between the Rays and the city over keeping the team in St. Petersburg.

The idea never went anywhere. Then-Mayor Bill Foster didn't agree to Rays owner Stuart Sternberg's offer to consider the Carillon site — now known as Echelon City Center — if the city would finally allow the team to look for stadium sites across the bay in Hillsborough County. The standoff continued for more than three years until a deal brokered by Mayor Rick Kriseman to allow the Rays to look for a new home outside the city was approved by the City Council in January 2016.

By that time, LeClair had already moved on. In 2014 he sought the first zoning change to allow him to develop the property into a mix of offices, residential and retail designed to keep Gateway office workers on the Pinellas side of the bay — or at least get them to spend more time and money there after work.

LeClair said then that he still wanted the Rays to build a ballpark on the site, but the window was closing. The site was listed as one of 17 possible baseball stadium sites in Pinellas by county officials as recently as last summer. But now the window has slammed shut.

His plans call for building 1,505 residential units, 120 hotel rooms, 172,000 square feet of retail space and 480,500 square feet of office space. Nearly five years ago, those proposed office buildings, hotel and restaurants, bars and shops would have surrounded the proposed ballpark, which would have shared some walls with the development.

Neither the Rays nor Major League Baseball ever expressed any interest in the site, said council member Jim Kennedy. He said that forced LeClair's hand.

"They're not going to sit around forever waiting for some kind of response," Kennedy said.

Gerdes paused, then pronounced the death of the Gateway stadium with a resigned tone.

"Okay, so you're telling me that Echelon has taken it off the table as a stadium," Gerdes said. "Just trying to keep track of what the potential stadium sites are, that's all."

Sternberg said in March that the team hopes to announce the site of a new stadium by the end of the year. The Rays deal with the city to look for a new site expires in January 2019.

As for LeClair, he called it a lesson learned. Time to move on.

"We made our pitch," he said. "But we're really excited about what Echelon City Center will provide. The market up there is very, very strong."

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]

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