ST. PETERSBURG — Building a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium in the middle of Pinellas County may put the team closer to more fans.
But it also may be the costliest location for taxpayers.
All four sites that have been considered in mid Pinellas would require major and sometimes massive infrastructure improvements. At least two would require building thousands of parking spaces. And three could need road upgrades and possibly a new interstate exchange.
The group studying the possible locations, A Baseball Community, has yet to consider the potential problems with any of the mid Pinellas sites, and declines even to talk about them. But the Rays recent acknowledgment that they prefer a location closer to the population center of the Tampa Bay area will no doubt trigger questions about the feasibility of such a move.
The talk, when it happens, won't be about if the move is possible. It will be at what cost.
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From a people perspective, north St. Petersburg, which is also called Gateway, and mid Pinellas are attractive in ways that downtown St. Petersburg may never be.
A team study determined that roughly 1.2 million people live within a 30-minute drive of the Gateway area, compared to 600,000 who live that close to downtown St. Petersburg. The team also says north St. Petersburg has almost twice as many employed people within a 30-minute drive.
The numbers are not insignificant.
The Rays say only 19 percent of the area's population is within a 30-minute drive of their current home, Tropicana Field. In Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Minneapolis, the percentage is closer to 60 percent, the Rays say.
"I don't doubt that they would prefer a Gateway location," said Mike Meidel, the economic development director of Pinellas County. "It's strictly demographics. Downtown St. Petersburg is surrounded by water. The closer you get to the center of Tampa Bay, the shorter the drive for folks coming from Tampa and from Clearwater and north Pinellas."
During their preliminary fact-finding, the Rays identified five sites in mid Pinellas that could potentially support a stadium.
One site, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport and adjacent Airco Golf Course, was eliminated by Pinellas County after the Federal Aviation Administration expressed safety concerns over a ballpark plan. The sites that remain:
• The former Toytown landfill, a 241-acre site adjacent to Interstate 275 N near the Roosevelt Boulevard exit.
• Derby Lane, a privately owned dog racing track near Gandy Boulevard and Fourth Street N;
• A vacant 100 acres owned by developer Grady Pridgen near Interstate 275 S and Roosevelt.
• And a smaller plot inside the Carillon Town Center, a mixed-use development between Roosevelt and Ulmerton Road in north St. Petersburg.
The Rays have not indicated a preference for one site over another. They say they plan to let the civic group examining locations finish its work before heavily investing in any one plan. A recommendation from that group could come within a year.
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One reason the Rays originally pitched Al Lang Field as a new stadium site was because it was the cheapest option available, said Rays executive Michael Kalt.
That plan, with a price tag of $450 million, is now scrapped.
Cost estimates for the other sites do not exist, but comparatively, the Rays and others acknowledge they will be more expensive.
The Pridgen and Toytown sites would both require the construction of as many as 9,000 parking spaces, many likely in parking garages. The Rays relied on existing parking downtown to support the Al Lang Field proposal.
The Rays likely would use a combination of surface lots and parking garages to manage parking at those sites, said Uday Kiritkar, a vice president with Walker Parking Consultants in Tampa.
A surface lot space could cost $3,000 to $4,000 each. A garage space could cost $10,000 to $13,000 each, Kiritkar said. Either way, parking would likely add at least $30 million and as much as $70 million to the stadium cost.
At Carillon, the Rays would rely on parking spaces already built into the development. At Derby Lane, the Rays say they would likely have to build parking garages as well.
But parking isn't the only cost factor. Three of the four mid-Pinellas sites are privately owned, meaning the city, the county or the Rays would have to purchase the land.
Derby Lane has a market value of more than $12 million, according to the Pinellas County property appraiser. The Carillon site could be worth almost $10 million, and Pridgen's land about $6 million, according to the property appraiser.
The county already owns Toytown, but because it is a former landfill, it could be more costly to build on, experts say.
For the Pridgen and Toytown sites, developers also would have to build a road network, along with infrastructure for water, sewer and electric service.
Worse yet, a stadium in mid-county could require a new interstate exchange. The Florida Department of Transportation already has discouraged the idea of a new exchange in north St. Petersburg. If one was built, it would likely cost tens of millions of dollars.
Neither Pridgen, nor the company exploring the possible redevelopment of Toytown, Bear Creek Capital of Cincinnati, responded to an interview request for this story. Carillon builder Darryl LeClair, president of Echelon Development, also did not return a message seeking comment.
City officials are hesitant to discuss any potential site as well. The Rays and city have an agreement to keep the Rays at Tropicana Field until 2027. The city would have to agree to any change, regardless of whether it was asked to help fund a new ballpark, said senior city development administrator Rick Mussett.
Mayor Rick Baker has indicated he prefers to keep the team downtown, possibly at the Tropicana Field site. Most of the major candidates running for mayor also prefer keeping the Rays downtown.
"At this time, the discussion is really academic," Mussett said. "There's nothing much to talk about."
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2273.