As great moments in altruism go, this probably has to rank right up there with St. Francis of Assisi blessing all of God's creatures, the Berlin Airlift and the founding of the Peace Corps. • There they were, all the silk-stocking, fancy-pants big shots of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce gazing out their skyscraper windows toward the west, when suddenly a wave of goodwill and fellowship overwhelmed everyone. • Poor St. Petersburg, they fretted. Such a fine city, such a fine place, such fine people every last one of them, who through no fault of their own were suddenly confronted by a civic crisis. Wouldn't it be a sad pity if the wonderful citizens of St. Petersburg were to lose their beloved Tampa Bay Rays one of these days simply because the chaps of summer must play baseball in the architectural equivalent of a FEMA trailer?
And so it was that the Tampa Chamber stepped up the plate, so to speak, to announce that in the best interests of one and all it would spend the next several months searching far and wide to study various financing options for a new Rays ballpark.
Feel free to start filling out the nomination forms to bestow the Nobel Peace Prize on the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the business community's answer to Doctors Without Borders when it comes to charity and selflessness.
A cynic might well wonder if there isn't just a pinch of self-interest at work here. After all, why would an organization dedicated to promoting the economic goals of Tampa pledge to help the economic health of a long-standing economic competitor?
Wouldn't this be just a little bit like General Motors offering to help out Toyota?
Could it be remotely suggested the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's gift of a study to find ways to finance a new baseball stadium might have anything to do with eventually luring the Rays across Tampa Bay to, oh, perhaps the Channelside area?
But rest assured, insisted Tampa Chamber president Chuck Sykes, any thought of dragooning the Rays to the land of beads of naughty women couldn't be further from the truth. Whew! That's good to know.
Sykes insisted this one-for-all and all-for-one, hands across the water, Mandelaesque gesture of civic comity is simply a matter of stepping forward to fill a "void." That is a diplomatic way of saying the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce isn't exactly a fireball of activism when it comes to dealing with the Rays and their current home at Tropicana Field, Major League Baseball's equivalent of a lean-to.
Indeed, Sykes said, the Tampa Chamber group will invite some Pinellas business honchos to participate in the financing study, if they can find anyone who can manage their way across the Howard Frankland Bridge.
After all, since the Rays are technically obligated to fulfill the terms of the lease agreement to remain in baseball's answer to the Maginot Line until 2027, the negotiating tactic employed by St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster is to cover his ears and hold his breath.
And that probably explains why the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Sykes are taking such great pains to not even mention a possible Rays relocation outside St. Petersburg. That would run the risk of getting uglier than the Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger divorce.
Let us not forget that getting out of leases is one the reasons God created lawyers. Simply clinging to the notion the Rays must hang around Tropicana Field, which makes Greek ruins look like the Las Vegas strip, for the next 17 years is hardly a keen — or rational — strategy.
If there had been a thriving, aggressive campaign to pursue various financing options for a new Rays home emanating from the inner councils of St. Petersburg's business community, it is altogether probable the Tampa Chamber would have been content to merely remain in its bullpen of checkbooks.
Assuming nothing but the best of intentions on the part of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, it still seems a little bit disingenuous to suggest you can embark on a lengthy study of stadium financing in the abstract without taking into consideration where you are going to build it, since location obviously influences the ultimate cost.
Sykes, who comes from a family of savvy bean counters, knows that. So does Bill Foster.