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One potential site for Rays stadium in Tampa fades, another emerges

TAMPA — One group's effort to line up a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays should they seek to pack their bags appears to have fizzled.

The group's option on a key piece of property in the Channel District of downtown Tampa that was part of its proposed stadium development plan has expired.

Meanwhile, the lead person for another group promoting a Rays stadium in downtown Tampa said it has identified a possible location for a stadium outside the Channel District.

Claire Clements, a Tampa-based real estate broker, first began circulating drawings for a possible Channel District stadium for the Rays more than a year ago. The rendering depicted shops, parks, offices and stadium on several parcels of land between the Garrison Channel and Jackson Street, roughly across from the St. Pete Times Forum.

A key piece of the footprint included roughly 5 acres east of Caesar Street S owned by the Italiano family of Tampa.

"Claire Clements had certain rights associated with the property," said David Boggs, an attorney for the family. "It's my understanding that one of the things she was interested in doing is putting a baseball stadium on the site. The contractual rights are no longer in effect."

Clements has long said the drawing was largely a "vision," a back-pocket option to keep the team in the region if it vacates Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The team has been agitating for a new stadium, though their current contract at Tropicana Field doesn't expire until 2027.

Since her proposal was disclosed by the St. Petersburg Times early last year, Clements, president of Land and Sand Realty, has declined to reveal her partners or whether they have any financial backing. She also would not discuss any efforts to secure land. Attempts to reach her Friday were unsuccessful.

Boggs declined to say how long Clements held rights to the property in question or when they expired, citing client confidentiality. But he said he believes the property and surrounding land would make an ideal location for a baseball stadium.

Aside from easy access for potential spectators around the region, the location could potentially create an expanded television market that would include Orlando, he said.

Currently, no other entities have contractual rights to the property, which he said also would be a prime spot for other major developments, such as a casino. His comments played off remarks attributed to Gov. Rick Scott this week indicating that he may be willing to consider expanded gaming in Florida.

"The property is available and it's ideally situated for a number of uses," Boggs said.

Also Friday, a different group pushing for a stadium said it has secured an option on land elsewhere downtown. Ryan Neubauer, who said he is moving into an executive director role with the group BuildItDowntownTampa.org, He would not disclose the land location or anything else that would describe it.

His organization formed nearly two years ago, largely as a website promoting downtown Tampa as the best location for a Rays stadium. After getting contacted by like-minded people, he said the group has been working to ensure that remains a possibility if the Rays try to leave St. Petersburg.

"We feel it would be irresponsible not to," he said. "We've made no bones about downtown really being the only logical option for the stadium. We're going to do everything we can to prepare for that option should the team come to the realization that downtown is the best place for them."

There are other downtown or near-downtown locales that may be able to accommodate a sports stadium. They include an area along the Ybor Channel that is part of Tampa's port, the shelved Heights development on the north side of downtown straddling Interstate 275 and the Hillsborough River, and land beneath and surrounding the Tampa Park Apartments, a low-income housing complex between downtown and Ybor City.

Neubauer acknowledged that his group has examined the Channel District for a possible stadium site but concluded that a 40,000-seat arena could cause traffic hassles for residents. He would not say whether his group has been working with Clements.

Neubauer also has declined to offer any details about who his group includes or how it might secure money for a new stadium.

He said participants in his group hope to meet later this month to develop a strategic plan for the remainder of the year. Among the topics to discuss is whether to form a separate entity to plan for a stadium.

The Rays have said they need to leave Tropicana Field to remain a viable baseball team, and that they will not be playing there until their contract expires. A business group formed to study options for the team's future concluded a new stadium was needed and listed downtown Tampa as a potentially good site.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

One potential site for Rays stadium in Tampa fades, another emerges 01/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 8, 2011 12:03am]
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