Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

WANTED: New home for American League baseball team

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ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball's version of House Hunters premiered Thursday when the Tampa Bay Rays released a one-page wish list for what the club wants in a new stadium.

Forget Camden Yards and all those retro, old-timey ballparks.

That's soooo 1990s. Yuck.

The Rays instead want a "next-generation" stadium for the "evolving fan." The new digs have to be "authentic" and "fan forward" and "smart" and "sustainable" and "flexible."

Buzzwords aside, however, the Rays aren't providing too many detailed specs for the team's next home.

The club did specify that any site must be about at least 20 acres and "right-sized" for baseball geometry. The Rays also made clear that "the ability to structure a public-private partnership that would support the construction . . . is critical."

In other words, taxpayer dollars a must.

Most of the known potential stadium sites appear to still be in the hunt, except, perhaps, the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Even though Interstate 4 site was the most popular choice for Hillsborough fans in a December Tampa Bay Times/10News WTSP poll, the fairgrounds are not exactly the kind of neighborhood the Rays want.

"The site and surrounding area should offer, now or the ability to develop in the future, a wide range of entertainment, dining and retail amenities," according to Thursday's quasi-classified ad.

The document reiterates that whatever and wherever the Rays decide to build it "will push the limits of ballpark design, re-imagine what it is like to experience a live baseball game and repackage it for generations to come."

Though vague, the one page "contains the vision and criteria which will guide our search," said Rays senior vice president Melanie Lenz. "We look forward to taking a fresh look at all possibilities for our next generation ballpark."

St. Petersburg officials said they feel like Tropicana Field and Gateway-area sites like Toytown have made the cut.

"Absolutely," City Council member Charlie Gerdes said. "I've said all along that it's our huge advantage that we have an existing revenue stream (bed taxes). We don't have to raise taxes."

Even Jim Kennedy, the council member whose calls for the Rays to provide detailed search criteria led to the modest version released Thursday, was pleased.

"To me it sounds like Tropicana Field fits," Kennedy said.

In Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the document didn't surprise him, but serves as a good general road map.

Being accessible to business centers and having room for neighboring retail — two of the criteria — are no-brainers, he said. So is the desire for easy interstate access and a potential for mass transit, he said.

Buckhorn and other Hillsborough leaders had assumed that about a dozen acres would be sufficient for a stadium, but 20 won't pose a problem, he said.

"It's an excellent foundation for our meeting tomorrow morning," Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said of the Rays' requests.

Hagan, Buckhorn and other Hillsborough County officials and local business executives are scheduled to meet with Rays executives this morning in Tampa to discuss the stadium search.

The potential for public-private partnerships, economic development opportunities, site accessibility and regional connectivity — "those are critically important elements of any potential location."

The Rays appear eager to start providing details to interested parties. Team officials delivered the document to St. Petersburg officials three weeks after the City Council approved a deal allowing them to look outside the city. The memorandum of understanding gave the club 60 days.

The document lists six categories by which the Rays will evaluate potential sites:

• Catalyst for development

• Local authenticity

• Regional connectivity

• Site accesibility

• Size and geometry

• Financial feasibility and development readiness

The granite countertops could come up later.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. [email protected]

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