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Tampa Sports Authority's long-term plan contemplates baseball stadium

TAMPA — A strategic plan being drafted by Hills­borough County's main sports governing agency contemplates it playing a role in development of a new baseball stadium.

Officials with the Tampa Sports Authority say the agency is simply making sure it is prepared for anything that may come its way in the future. They say they are not and won't be making a pitch for any new stadiums.

"It says, 'If asked, we stand ready to do whatever is necessary, whether it's baseball, soccer, tennis, other golf courses,' " Sports Authority spokeswoman Barbara Casey said. "It has absolutely no plan for anything to build a stadium or be involved with it — nor soccer or tennis or golf."

The plan is being crafted against the backdrop of an ongoing regional discussion about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, whose owners have been agitating for a new stadium. A report issued earlier this year by the ABC Coalition, a civic group, found that the team needs a new stadium to remain financially viable and recommended possible locations, including three in Hillsborough.

News reports have detailed two efforts in Hillsborough County to prepare possible sites for a baseball stadium should the team look to exit St. Petersburg. The resulting discussions have drawn some pushback from officials with the city of St. Petersburg, which has a contract with the team to play at Tropicana Field through 2027.

Sports Authority executive director Eric Hart, who recently took over the post, said the timing of his agency's work on a strategic plan and the ongoing baseball stadium dialogue is coincidental. He said the TSA is required to prepare a long-range plan periodically for the state Legislature.

The Sports Authority developed and runs Raymond James Stadium and runs three Tampa-owned golf courses. It also serves as landlord for the St. Pete Times Forum and Steinbrenner Field.

Hart's plan calls for coming up with a strategy for keeping up the existing arenas while being on the lookout for possibilities that would enhance residents' quality of life and perhaps bring in money. Mention of a new baseball stadium in the report is simply a nod to the ongoing discussion, not a bid, he said.

"People are trying to make more of it and connect dots that aren't there," Hart said. "We're not promoting that in any way."

St. Petersburg City Attorney John Wolfe said he is tracking any plan that might lure the Rays away from Tropicana Field. But he hasn't seen the TSA plan.

"We'll have to see exactly what they're doing. I'd have to see the details of what they're planning and who they have contacted before I could comment."

In addition to a possible baseball stadium, the plan contemplates a new soccer venue for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and possibly managing other golf courses or developing driving ranges. Construction of a multiuse sports complex in the West Shore area, which is being studied by tourism promoters, and working with other groups to develop a tennis complex are also mentioned.

"We're keeping our eyes open for an opportunity that may be available down the road," said Tony Muniz, a member of the Sports Authority governing board who serves on the long-range planning committee. "Whether it be golf, tennis, soccer — or baseball."

Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Tampa Sports Authority's long-term plan contemplates baseball stadium 05/11/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 8:00am]
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