ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays may soon abandon their push for a November referendum to build a $450-million waterfront stadium.
An announcement could come as early as today, city and county officials with knowledge of the Rays' plan told the St. Petersburg Times late Tuesday. The Rays have contemplated delaying a vote on the stadium until 2010.
The team is "considering a change of direction," said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. "I'm just glad from the county's perspective that folks are not talking about forcing a November referendum."
Rays executives did not return calls for comments Tuesday, and team officials denied as late as Monday the possibility of pushing back the referendum. Senior vice president Michael Kalt was scheduled to make a stadium presentation to a coalition of beach communities this morning.
News of a delay would slow down a process that city and county leaders from the beginning said was moving too quickly. The Rays announced their proposal to build a 34,000-seat ballpark at the site of Al Lang Field on Nov. 28.
No one the Times spoke with on Tuesday expected the Rays to halt their quest for a new ballpark, or even one on the waterfront. But the extra time would allow the city and county to consider possible alternative locations for a new stadium.
"It's fairly obvious this process needs to slow down," said Welch, who spoke with Rays president Matt Silverman this week about delaying a citywide vote on the stadium plan.
Mayor Rick Baker, who officials say knows of the Rays' plans, did not return calls for comments.
Members of the St. Petersburg City Council were unaware of a possible delay. "If the rumor is in fact true, I am pleased to hear it," said City Council member Herb Polson.
City Council member Jeff Danner said he heard the Rays were preparing to make a big announcement, but he did not know what it was.
From the beginning, the Rays argued for a 2008 referendum to capitalize on the high voter turnout associated with a presidential campaign.
Quietly, team officials think that a broader electorate might help the Rays. They also said the project's cost would likely escalate if a vote was pushed back because of the rising price of steel and concrete.
But city and county leaders consistently have argued for a possible "Plan B." Former City Council member and likely mayoral candidate Bill Foster became the latest to advocate a more protracted approach last week, when he suggested forming a baseball blue ribbon committee.
St. Petersburg's Council of Neighborhood Associations, which opposes a November referendum, also has asked the team and city to slow down.
A referendum of St. Petersburg voters is required because the Rays are seeking to lease waterfront property for the new ballpark. A non-waterfront location would not require a citywide vote, though city officials may insist on one anyway.
Staff writers Cristina Silva and Marc Topkin contributed to this report.