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Poll shows Tropicana Field is favorite baseball stadium site among Tampa Bay residents

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay area's ongoing stadium debate hit some minor peaks in 2012.

Hillsborough officials angered St. Petersburg officials by signaling that the Tampa Bay Rays should cross the bay.

A consortium associated with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik patched together enough land in Tampa's Channel District to squeeze in a ballpark.

St. Petersburg developers unveiled a glitzy proposal for a new ballpark at Carillon.

But for Joe Fan, not much changed.

A recent Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay telephone survey of 521 Pinellas and Hillsborough residents showed that the single most popular stadium option is simply to keep the team playing at Tropicana Field.

Even among Hillsborough residents, the Trop remains the favored site.

Much of this sentiment stems from fear that public money would have to underwrite any new stadium. Survey respondents opposed that idea 50 percent to 41 percent — even if their own taxes were unaffected.

The survey's margin of error is 4.3 percentage points overall and about 6 percentage points for a single county.

"I'm all for improvements, but I want my taxes going where it's needed first and that's for our children,'' said Valrico resident Roxanne Tousignant, 45, mother of two and a lead slot attendant at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

"We've got schools older than (the Trop) with asbestos in them, where young children stay five to 10 hours a day,'' she said

Along with 28 percent of all Hillsborough residents, Tousignant wants the stadium to stay where it is. "Why do they need to move it around?'' she said.

Considerable stadium speculation this year focused on downtown Tampa. But the hometown folks aren't keen on the idea. Only 16 percent of Hillsborough residents want a stadium there.

The problem? Traffic, said Tousignat.

"It has too many one way streets and too much confusion to put anything else in downtown Tampa,'' she said. "It's too chaotic down there.''

Hillsborough residents like the state fairgrounds better, with 25 percent listing it as their preferred stadium site.

"It's right on the corridor between Orlando and downtown,'' said Brandon resident Steve Zamora, 55. "There are so many ways to get in there. I have been there for many concerts and never had a problem.''

Zamora said he attends about 20 Rays games a year, and can reach the Trop in 35 to 40 minutes via the Crosstown Expressway. Still, he would pony up tax money for a new ballpark at the fairgrounds — as long as the team pays a big chunk, too.

"It would have to be fair and they don't do a Glazer thing,'' Zamora said, referring to the owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and construction of Raymond James Stadium with public funds. "The Rays would have to have skin in the game.''

Almost no Pinellas resident wants to see the Rays in Tampa, no matter the site.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, downtown Tampa's biggest booster, thinks a stadium would spur development. A special tax district now paying off the convention center could shift funds in a few years for a ballpark.

The poll numbers do not reflect what's best for the Rays or the region, Buckhorn said.

"Certainly the status quo is the safe position, which is why the numbers at the Trop are what they are,'' he said. "But that's not a realistic solution. Clearly, the Rays don't want to be there. The business model doesn't work, so I don't know that that's even available as an option.

Nor do the Rays want another suburban stadium like the fairgrounds, he said.

"There is a built-in critical mass in downtown Tampa that if you could walk to a stadium you would have a lot more people in the seats,'' Buckhorn said. "You would energize downtown in ways we can't even imagine."

The survey results closely mimicked a similar Times poll taken last December.

Not even the Carillon proposal moved the needle much.

Developers Echelon LLC released architectural drawings and demographic studies three months ago for a retractable roof stadium. The proposed ballpark would share walls and utility systems with a ring of Mediterranean Revival office buildings, a hotel and apartments that would overlook the field.

Echelon presented a study showing that game-time traffic flows more easily from Hillsborough to Pinellas than from Pinellas to Hillsborough.

Echelon officials declined to discuss financing, saying they needed to consult the Rays about joint construction costs and revenue sharing.

But when the Rays declined to talk, the project lapsed into limbo.

Tarpon Springs resident Gary Williams, 65, loved the Carillon proposal. He figured it would cut the drive time to Rays games by half. "Way down there in the city is a long way for us to go,'' Williams says.

But Williams is the exception.

Only 21 percent of Pinellas residents and 1 percent of Hillsborough residents listed Carillon as their preferred site — essentially unchanged from 2011.

The only statistically significant shift from last year's sentiment came from how Pinellas residents view Tropicana Field.

In 2011, 50 percent listed the Trop as their favored site, down from 54 percent in 2010. In the 2012 survey, Pinellas support for the Trop dropped to 42 percent.

That did not mean Pinellas residents shifted their preferences to Carillon or any site in Hillsborough. They just appear less certain in their views — perhaps because of the highly publicized stadium standoff between the Rays and St. Petersburg or because of continued lackluster attendance at the Trop.

In the 2012 poll, 19 percent of Pinellas respondents now list themselves as unsure about the best stadium location, up 10 percentage points from 2011. The number of unsure Hillsborough residents remained constant at 14 percent.

The Rays, as is their custom, declined to comment about the poll numbers.

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at [email protected]

Of those polled think the current stadium at Tropicana Field is the best location for the Tampa Bay Rays to play.

Would oppose a local government committing tax money to build a stadium for the Rays even if it did not result in increased taxes for them personally.

More poll results, 12A

Poll shows Tropicana Field is favorite baseball stadium site among Tampa Bay residents 12/24/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 24, 2012 11:00pm]
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