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On baseball, here's where St. Petersburg mayor candidates stand

Candidates discuss baseball Thursday during a forum hosted by the Clutch Hitters at the St. Petersburg Times auditorium.  From left, Kathleen Ford, Bill Foster, Jamie Bennett (partly obscured), Deveron Gibbons, Scott Wagman and Larry Williams.

CHRIS KOZLOWSKI I Times

Candidates discuss baseball Thursday during a forum hosted by the Clutch Hitters at the St. Petersburg Times auditorium. From left, Kathleen Ford, Bill Foster, Jamie Bennett (partly obscured), Deveron Gibbons, Scott Wagman and Larry Williams.

Six of the nine candidates for St. Petersburg mayor tackled questions about the future of baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays during an hourlong forum Thursday. The event, hosted by a Rays booster group called the Clutch Hitters, offered subtle distinctions in the candidates' positions. While all the candidates said they preferred to keep the Rays playing on the Tropicana Field site, either at a renovated dome or a new ballpark, some left open other options. No one supported a ballpark at the site of Al Lang Field. But Bill Foster did offer a suggestion for the Rays former spring training home: court a team from Japan or Korea each spring. Scroll down to see candidates' views.

Jamie Bennett, 56, City Council member Kathleen Ford, 51, lawyer Bill Foster, 46, lawyer Deveron Gibbons, 36, business executive Scott Wagman, 56, investor Larry Williams, 64, business owner
Stadium on the waterfront? No. No. No. No. No. No.
Will the public get a vote? Didn't commit one way. Yes, under any scenario. Yes, under any scenario. Yes, under any scenario. Yes, under any scenario. "I'm okay with a referendum."
Which location is best? Tropicana Field site with access to light rail and bus service. First preference is to renovate Tropicana Field. Northwest corner of Trop site; part of bigger redevelopment. Tropicana Field site, or Toytown landfill. Tropicana Field site, but closer to First Avenue S. First preference is to renovate Tropicana Field.
Should taxpayers help pay for it? Money decisions shouldn't be made until there's a proposal in place. Open to extending tax payments once Tropicana Field debt is paid off. Open to extending tax payments once Tropicana Field debt is paid off. Would extend payments; against increasing city tax payments. City needs to build up trust in voters before asking them for tax support. Taxpayer funds likely will have to be used.
Bottom line Important to work with Rays, not as adversaries. Keeping team in St. Petersburg is critical. Will take Rays to court if they attempt to leave before lease expires in 2027. A new stadium should be built in conjunction with a convention center. Promises to be proactive to keep the Rays in St. Petersburg. Stresses city's baseball tradition. St. Petersburg is first preference, but won't eliminate county sites as a possibility. "If I am your mayor, this baseball team will stay here. If we need to build a stadium, we'll build a stadium."

On baseball, here's where St. Petersburg mayor candidates stand 05/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:26pm]
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