The woman leading a group exploring a new Rays park builds consensus, community

Judy Mitchell majored in accounting and rose through the ranks of the construction industry by focusing on finances.

But ask her financial questions about the new local baseball group she is leading — such as whether the Tampa Bay Rays should open their books for the first time — and she won't answer. Too soon, she says.

"We haven't met as a committee yet," said Mitchell, co-chairwoman and spokeswoman for the A Baseball Community Inc. "I think it's premature to ask how we're going to operate and what we're going to need."

She also won't say how much of the bill for a new stadium the Rays should pay or how her group can ensure that Tampa Bay leaders work together.

Such reticence is not surprising for Mitchell, who is described by people who know her as someone who listens more than she talks, who looks for consensus and who keeps a close eye on finances.

Her friends and colleagues say those qualities helped Mitchell become president and co-owner of a Florida construction company that builds churches, schools and jails.

And they expect Mitchell to use those qualities as she helps guide the 11-member group studying whether the Rays need a new baseball stadium and how the community can better support the team.

Mitchell, 54, grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where she met her future husband, Jeff, in high school.

As a student, Mitchell was a member of a club that organized activities like dances and plays for mentally disabled young adults. This foray outside her "cocoon of family and friends" made a deep impression, as she realized "they're just like you and I. It really opened my eyes." It helped convince her of the need for community service.

After majoring in accounting at Ohio State University, she worked at a heating and air conditioning company in Ohio. The blizzard of 1978 persuaded her and her husband to move to Florida. She found work at a concrete firm, launching a career with construction-related companies, always on the financial side of the businesses.

She succeeded in the male-dominated industry not by acting tougher than male colleagues, but by being "a diplomat, an analyst,' said Alan Bomstein of Creative Contractors Inc., who has sometimes competed against Mitchell's firm "with a lot of mutual respect." Bomstein also is a member of the new baseball group.

She was hired by Peter R. Brown Construction more than 20 years ago, became president in 1992, and bought the company with two partners in 2000. She was also active as a community volunteer.

Although she is not so well-known in St. Petersburg, "In north county she's clearly viewed as one of the community's finest leaders,'' said Clearwater lawyer Ed Armstrong, a friend. "She's been the chairman of everything."

That includes serving on the boards of Morton Plant Mease Hospital, Baycare Health System, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, the YWCA of Tampa Bay, St. Paul's School and others.

Mitchell said she believes in being "inclusive, listening to everyone, then building a consensus, but then let's get a decision." That will be important on the baseball committee, which she said is full of independent thinkers for whom "everything is on the table and everything is going to be vetted."

In her free time, Mitchell enjoys reading business books and John Grisham-style page-turners. She and her husband, who recently retired as a vice president at Valpak, also enjoy spending time with their 14-year-old daughter, especially watching her volleyball games.

And, she adds, "I just think there's nothing more fun than to go to a stadium and watch sports." She enjoys going to watch the Rays for family time, seeing her friends, eating ballpark food and rooting for the home team. Especially this year.

"Do I sit there and do the box scores? No. It's just great fun."

Keeping the Rays here is important, "so families and people can experience that as well. It's part of the quality of life that we have here in Tampa Bay.

"Lots of cities would love to have them. ... I just think it's incumbent on us to try to keep them and try to make them successful."

On the Web

For more information on A Baseball Community Inc., go to http://abc-baseball.com.

The woman leading a group exploring a new Rays park builds consensus, community 09/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:07pm]

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