A baseball stadium likely could not be built at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport or neighboring Airco Golf Course, a Pinellas County official said Wednesday, all but ruling out the site as a home for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Pinellas economic development director Mike Meidel said a county study suggested the height of a stadium and the light it gives off would interfere with airport takeoffs and landings.
But another mid Pinellas site remains a possibility, Meidel told the community advisory group studying the Rays' stadium options.
Preliminary testing shows that the 300-acre former Toytown landfill along Interstate 275 near Carillon could work. More testing is required, and construction could not begin for at least three years, Meidel said.
But "by every indication, it is still a viable site," Meidel told the group, which is formally called A Baseball Community.
Stadium talk dominated the meeting, the group's fourth since it was created in September.
Craig Sher, a member of the group and chairman of the Sembler Co., said the group will first identify what the stadium should look like, before location concerns are addressed.
At issue is the design of the building, whether it will have a roof, and if it will be surrounded by parking garages, surface lots or a mixed-use development.
Sher, who is leading the group's stadium search, also sought to alleviate concerns over discussing a potentially $450-million to $600-million project in the middle of a recession.
A new stadium likely would not open before 2014 and possibly not until 2016, Sher said, and its impact would be felt over a much longer period of time.
Also Wednesday, Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt presented sobering statistics that illustrate both the team's and the community's challenges when it comes to supporting a major league franchise.
The Rays finished last in major league attendance 28 out of 81 home games this season, Kalt said. And the base from which to grow is suspect, according to the team's research.
Using demographic data, the Rays say 615,000 people live within a 30-minute drive of Tropicana Field.
Compare that with Pittsburgh, where 1.2-million people live within a 30-minute drive, Kalt said. Or Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Cleveland or Kansas City, which all have populations twice as dense as the Rays.
"We just don't have enough people within a half an hour drive," Kalt said.
Building a stadium in Carillon or at Toytown would almost double the population within a 30-minute commute, the Rays say. But that's not the only problem.
When compared to other major league markets, Tampa Bay ranks near the bottom in retail buying income, retail sales and corporate base, Kalt said.
His research mirrors a separate St. Petersburg Times analysis published last month.
While sites have not specifically been discussed, community leaders seem to be focusing on a handful: Toytown, Al Lang Field, the Derby Lane property, the Tropicana Field site and Carillon. The leader of the community group, Progress Energy chief executive Jeff Lyash, said he hopes to have a recommendation for city and county leaders by late 2009 or early 2010.