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Everyone wants a voice on stadium plans

ST. PETERSBURG — It sounded simple enough.

Gather a group of local leaders to figure out how to build a baseball stadium.

But a week after Mayor Rick Baker and Tampa Bay Rays officials tapped Progress Energy chief executive Jeff Lyash to head the effort, it's clear that his task will be anything but easy.

City, county, business and neighborhood leaders already are battling for a voice on the committee, ensuring politics will dominate the selection process. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how the group should be formed. And even the size is subject to debate — big enough to be diverse but small enough to be effective.

"You have a have a lot of different interests there that have to be reconciled," said Will Michaels, chairman of the Council of Neighborhood Association's baseball committee. "He is going to have to be able to broker compromises, and that is no easy thing to do."

Lyash, who is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment, hasn't said much about what he plans to do, other than forming a group that is as inclusive as possible.

The idea of a stadium task force was born in the wake of the Rays' decision last week to indefinitely withdraw their $450-million downtown stadium proposal.

Team officials say Lyash will have absolute authority over the coalition's inner workings.

"The first order of business will be putting the group together and deciding what the scope of their charge will be," said Michael Kalt, the Rays' senior vice president of development and business affairs. "Obviously you would want to see representatives from all parts of the community represented on the coalition. Jeff is smart enough to know how to make this thing successful."

Community leaders agree Lyash will have to include officials from north and south Pinellas, and maybe Hillsborough County.

But that's about the only thing they agree on.

St. Petersburg leaders say city officials should comprise the majority of the group and that the focus should be on keeping the team in the city. County leaders, however, say the group should include an equal mix of people from throughout the Tampa Bay area.

And debate over whether the coalition should include elected officials, neighborhood leaders, organized groups for and against the stadium or business owners is even more heated.

"You wouldn't want it to be all chamber people or all members of POWW (Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront) or all people for the stadium. And obviously, none of the council members should be on it," said St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton. "That would be too much of a conflict of interest."

But Pinellas County Commissioner Bob Stewart said the group should include as many different parties as possible, including activists, elected officials and regular sports fans.

"Along the journey you have to build public support," he said. "You do that through involvement, participation and extensive communication."

Opinions also differ over how the members should be selected.

Council member Karl Nurse said people should be able to nominate themselves.

Jim Lawrence, president of the Barrier Islands Government Council, said Lyash should first figure out the qualities he's looking for.

Some groups have already volunteered their services, including the Council of Neighborhood Associations, POWW and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

"The important criteria is that the members have an open mind," said Steve Raymund, co-chairman of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce's baseball task force. "This committee had been formed on the premise that we want the Rays to be successful in St. Petersburg for a long time. The other premise is that the Rays will need to find a new home way before their lease runs out. So whomever joins the committee needs to be on board with these two premises."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846.

Everyone wants a voice on stadium plans 07/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2008 5:41pm]
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