Friday, May 25, 2018
News Roundup

Oldsmar dreams big, pitches new Rays stadium

OLDSMAR — It may be news to residents of Tampa and St. Petersburg, but Oldsmar bills itself as the hub of Tampa Bay.

And that's why Mayor Doug Bevis is convinced his community of just 14,000 is ready to rub shoulders with the likes of New York and Chicago as a home for major-league baseball.

Bevis and Tampa architect Francisco Semsch made their pitch Thursday to sell Oldsmar as a stadium site for the Tampa Bay Rays, unveiling a plan for offices, hotels, restaurants and, yes, a new ballpark on 120 acres of land just west of Race Track Road.

The site's biggest selling point: It straddles the Hillsborough-Pinellas county line, meaning tax revenue from both counties could potentially help pay for the ballpark, which is estimated to cost at least $600 million.

But would the Rays and MLB, which, in recent years, has favored urban settings for new ballparks, really consider a small city in the hinterlands of Pinellas?

Bevis said the plan is more than just a pipe dream.

"You've got to invest some time if you want to dream," he said. "We put our best foot forward today. If we don't get selected, it's not because we didn't try."

The site is owned by Tampa Bay Downs, which wants it developed as an entertainment district, Bevis said. Oldsmar worked with Semsch and his firm FSA Architecture/Construction to produce the conceptual plans unveiled Thursday.

They envision a district where fans could drink and dine before and after games. There would be a cinema, restaurants, bars and a driving range similar to Top Golf in Brandon. A CSX train line that runs close to the site could potentially become a passenger train service.

Located about 16 miles from downtown Tampa, the site is within a reasonable drive of St. Petersburg and Tampa, Bevis said.

About 1.1 million people live within a 30-minute drive of the site and have an average household income of $67,000, a city analysis shows.

And while Oldsmar's population is small, it is an employment center with workers at companies like Nielsen and MicroLumen boosting its daytime population to more than 60,000, Bevis said.

The Rays played no part in the development of Oldsmar's design — which Semsch's firm did for free — but did send Rick Nafe, vice president of operations, to observe the city make its pitch.

Nafe described it as "impressive."

"It will be one of the sites we look at as we go through our due diligence," he said.

The idea of a Rays stadium in Oldsmar drew mixed reactions.

Monty Kosloski, who owns Friend's Plumbing in the city, said Oldsmar is growing but isn't yet at the size to support a baseball franchise.

"I don't know we have the accommodations such as hotels and bars for it," he said.

But Bryan Abernathy, the owner of Tampa Shave Co. Barber Shop, applauded Bevis for thinking big.

"Why not?" he said. "We're right in the middle. It would bring more business."

Still, don't mention Oldsmar and ballpark in the same sentence to Rays fan Nathan Snyder, who lives in St. Petersburg.

"I've lived here in the bay area my whole life,'' he said. "Never have I been to Oldsmar. I couldn't even tell you how to get there."

The Rays have finished last in MLB average attendance for the past five years. After years of wrangling with the city of St. Petersburg, the team was granted permission to explore stadium sites in December.

Since then, team officials have met with business and elected leaders in Tampa and with officials from Baseball Forever, a campaign started by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to keep the Rays at the Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg. Pinellas County officials have identified 17 potential sites, including seven in St. Petersburg.

"Everyone is just following the process," said Rick Mussett, Baseball Forever's coordinator. "The Rays are the ones who will determine where the best sites are."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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