The kind of changes St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker has recommended for the Tampa Bay Rays' proposed $450-million stadium should help it better fit the waterfront surroundings. They also should make it more palatable for voters, which is why the Rays need to pay close attention.
A possible referendum is now only six months away, and the Rays have yet to show how they are adapting their plans to the heavy public input they have solicited and received. The people who oppose any construction on the downtown waterfront are not likely to be persuaded, but Baker has touched on some themes that could help the Rays' plan appeal to a broader audience.
1) Lack of parking. Though a new 3,500-car garage may not be entirely necessary, the Rays do need to bring more clarity to their parking plans. Some of the nearby lots identified as possible game parking have not even been approved by the business owners.
2) Encroachment on the arts. The mayor wants to draw a dividing line between a stadium to the north and the arts complex to the south. That should help allay some concerns of the community's arts patrons. The team can find other space for offices.
3) Filling in the bay. The Rays would reduce the width of Bayshore Drive and still fill about 0.6 acres of the boat basin. The mayor wants to keep the road wide enough for annual races and suggests a partial bridge over the bay.
The two biggest issues remain unresolved. The first is financing, and the Rays are not helping themselves when they allow city and county elected officials to learn secondhand about what appears to be their new alternative. If the plan now includes the continued use of tourist and local sales taxes, as opposed to property taxes, they should say so. If those numbers add up, the Rays are likely to find greater, not less, political support.
The second issue is the Trop site redevelopment. The three would-be developers are still pitching their plans, and the council needs to be assured that any plan is consistent with downtown growth and that the developer has the financial wherewithal and connections to make it happen.
In the meantime, the Rays' political instincts are looking increasingly clumsy. The vocal support of hometown Gov. Charlie Crist is nice, but they won't even make it to the ballot if they don't win over the mayor. Given the tenor of Baker's report and public comments, they have their work cut out for them.