Heavy hitters chosen to plot Rays' long-term strategy

ST. PETERSBURG — A private group of 11 business and civic leaders will help figure out a long-term strategy for the Tampa Bay Rays — and that could include staying at a refurbished Tropicana Field.

"I wouldn't take any option off the table," said Jeff Lyash, chairman of A Baseball Community and chief executive of Progress Energy Florida.

It took Lyash more than two months to name the members. Some 300 people were nominated to serve on the group, which originally was to have nine members.

The group has two women and nine men. There are five CEOs, a former neighborhood president and one elected official. At least four members also served on the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce baseball task force.

Mayor Rick Baker and the Rays lauded the choices for their heft while critics of the original downtown waterfront stadium proposal suggested he ignored St. Petersburg residents who oppose tax subsidies for the Rays.

"My first impression is that I'm not sure the community is going to look at that board and say that group represents them," said Niel Allen, a member of Protect our Wallets and Waterfront, who was nominated but not selected for Lyash's group.

Lyash said he considered myriad criteria during the selection process including integrity, proven leadership, community recognition and geographic and ethnic diversity. He disagreed that the group is CEO-centric.

"You've got to have that level of experience and skill," Lyash said. "You want a high powered group, but you also want to broaden that circle."

Lyash, who detailed the group's plans during a meeting with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board, said he wants the group to be transparent and inclusive. The public can attend meetings and participate in the group's committees, he said.

"We are going to follow the Sunshine Law," he said. "That's our intent."

The group has two main goals: build community support for the team and identify new stadium locations and financing options. At least three committees were announced: one for fan support, another for corporate support and a third to evaluate stadium options.

Rays officials said they were impressed with the group — and had nothing to do with who was chosen.

"We're pleased that the coalition is moving forward and delighted so many people with a lot of influence and interest in the community would see fit to devote some of their time to this cause," said Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt.

Baker chose Lyash to head the group in June after the Rays' $450-million downtown waterfront plan failed to gain wide support.

"Jeff had said he wanted to get a good cross section of the community and I think he accomplished that," Baker said. "It has some strong members from the entire region."

Lyash said he increased the size of the group from nine to 11 because so many applicants were qualified. "We had to add a utility infielder and a closer," he said.

Most members said they were notified by Lyash this week.

Judy Mitchell, president of Peter Brown Construction in Clearwater, will serve as co-chairwoman and spokeswoman.

Alan Bomstein, a lifetime Rays season ticket holder and president of Creative Contractors in Clearwater, will be secretary and treasurer.

"To be honest, I think that anything is up for grabs, absolutely anything — from the existing location, to the bayfront location, to somewhere more in the middle of the county," he said.

County Commission Chairman Bob Stewart complained to a reporter last week about being left out of the process. Then Lyash asked him to join. Stewart happily accepted.

"Jeff did a good job in picking a broad base," he said. "I'm glad that it was increased to 11. It's good to have a larger group."

Steve Raymund, chairman of Tech Data and former co-chairman of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce's baseball task force, was nominated but said he wasn't interested in joining the task force until Lyash asked him to this week. He also isn't much of a baseball fan.

"I haven't been historically," he said, "But there is nothing like a winning team."

Readers react

To read readers' comments about the new Rays group, or to share your own, go to blogs.tampabay.com/ballpark.

>>Fast Facts

Committee's goals

The 11-member committee has two basic goals:

1. Increase both fan and corporate support for the team.

2. Identify locations for a new stadium and financing options. Refurbishing Tropicana Field is also an option it will explore.

Heavy hitters chosen to plot Rays' long-term strategy 09/03/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 4:12pm]

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