In baseball or the corporate world, the idea is to build a team whose members offer a variety of skills and thoughts as they work toward a common goal. The opening pitch by the leader of a new community group that will build support for the Tampa Bay Rays and examine options for a new stadium reflects that philosophy. Now Progress Energy chief executive Jeff Lyash has to follow through with smart appointments and create a group that is inclusive but not divisive.
That will not be as easy as it sounds. The new nonprofit, A Baseball Community Inc., will have a nine-member board that will need representation from Hillsborough County and elsewhere outside Pinellas County to reflect the regional nature of the team's fan base. But it is reasonable that most of the members come from Pinellas and St. Petersburg, which likely will be paying for the lion's share of the cost of a new stadium.
A trickier issue will be assembling a group that includes voices that may be skeptical about particular stadium options but are not obstructionist. One of the unfortunate consequences of the Rays' initial effort to build support for a new stadium on St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront was that too many observers formed rigid opinions without knowing all of the facts. Lyash has the right idea. The new group should have room for a variety of viewpoints, but it would be counterproductive to include anyone who has no interest in keeping the Rays in the Tampa Bay area or in finding the team a better home than the existing Tropicana Field.
Besides the membership of the nine-member board, there are several other points to consider. One of the reasons the Rays' intriguing proposal stalled was that there was no public vetting of other options that built to their conclusion. This new coalition should start fresh. It should examine the shortcomings of the Trop and review whether it could be renovated, even if the answer seems clear. Then it should review a variety of sites for a new stadium, including the Trop's parking lot, the waterfront site where Al Lang Field sits and any others north of downtown. When the coalition makes its recommendation, elected officials and the public should have confidence that the conclusion was reached after a methodical review of all of the possibilities.
To accomplish that goal, the process must be transparent. The nine-member board should conduct its business in public. To ensure greater participation, the board could create advisory committees that study particular issues. While an 18-month timetable seems a tad long, it would avoid getting the group's final recommendations tied up in the 2009 race for mayor in St. Petersburg. The future of the Rays and the stadium question are fine campaign issues, but the mayoral election should not turn into a proxy vote for a specific stadium site.
The Rays' first effort to get a new stadium failed in part because of too much secrecy, too little time and too little attention to building support for a waterfront stadium by methodically ruling out other options. Now there is an opportunity to start over, learn from that experience and develop a consensus recommendation that the entire community supports and ensures the Rays remain here.