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Flea market mogul thinks his Pinellas Park plot would be great site for Tampa Bay Rays stadium

PINELLAS PARK — When folks talk about a possible new home for the Tampa Bay Rays, they usually mention St. Petersburg's Gateway area, downtown Tampa and West Shore.

But what about 185 acres in Pinellas Park?

It's available. It's undeveloped. It's convenient to Interstate 275, St. Petersburg, Tampa, north and west Pinellas. It's just down the road from the Gateway area.

And, better yet, the land's owner, flea market mogul Hardy Huntley, has already met with the Rays to offer them the property.

But don't break out the peanuts and Cracker Jack yet.

Peter Creighton, a spokesman for Huntley, said the Rays didn't seem very interested. The meeting was about four months ago and the Rays haven't called back.

In any case, Creighton said, the meeting was casual: "We merely wanted to make them aware that the land was there."

The Rays did not return a phone message from the St. Petersburg Times asking for a comment. They have a contract to remain at Tropicana Field until 2027. The contract forbids the Rays from talking to other cities or landowners about moving the team, and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has repeatedly stressed that. Foster could not be reached for comment Friday.

Huntley, a private man, is best known as the owner of the Wagon Wheel, Mustang and Gunn Highway flea markets. But he's also cobbled together hundreds of acres of undeveloped land in the bay area. Part of that is the 185 acres in the Gateway Center area on Pinellas Park's eastern edge. It includes commercial frontage on heavily traveled U.S. 19 and Gandy Boulevard. It was a major chunk of a more than 700-acre industrial and business park that was assembled, permitted and outfitted with roads and utilities in the late 1980s by Lomas & Nettleton, a Texas mortgage company that went out of business.

Huntley bought it last year for an undisclosed amount from a lender that had taken it back from developer Grady Pridgen.

Huntley bought the land, Creighton said, with an eye to finding a business to take over and provide much-needed jobs.

That's a worthy goal, but the idea of snaking the Rays out from under St. Petersburg — or Tampa — does have special appeal for a city that often feels it gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. "It'd obviously be a great thing," said Pinellas Park city spokesman Tim Caddell. "It would mean people would be finding out what Pinellas Park residents have always known. … It would be interesting to turn on national TV and hear them say, 'We're here in Pinellas Park.' " He paused, then said, "Of course, they probably wouldn't (say that)."

"I tell you what, if anybody could pull it off, Hardy Huntley has the knack," Caddell said.

Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler said he understands that St. Petersburg has made a substantial investment in the Rays and wants to keep them. But if they leave, he said, he couldn't think of a better place for them than Pinellas Park.

But Mischler said he's being realistic: "Keep your money in your pocket at this time. Season tickets are not going to be on sale in the next week (but) if they come, it'll be another great day in the capital city of Tampa Bay — Pinellas Park."

Flea market mogul thinks his Pinellas Park plot would be great site for Tampa Bay Rays stadium 07/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 16, 2010 10:58pm]
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