Hillsborough sets talks on Rays stadium
Hillsborough County took a smart step for the entire region Thursday by moving to initiate talks on a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. County commissioners voted 5-2 to support commission Chairman Ken Hagan's sensible, two-step approach.
Hillsborough will invite the Rays to appear before the board to discuss in broad terms the team's plans and its requirements for a ballpark. After that, the county would gather public and private leaders throughout the region to another public session to develop a strategy.
Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Al Higginbotham voted against the plan and expressed concerns that Hillsborough could be seen as maneuvering against St. Petersburg, which has a lease with the Rays to play in Tropicana Field until 2027. But Hagan's course is inclusive and measured. This fact-finding mission could serve as a road map for a broader conversation involving the entire region. Hillsborough would invite the Rays to appear after the season ends in October, and then convene a meeting with the mayors of St. Petersburg and Tampa, Pinellas commissioners and the chambers of commerce from both sides of the bay.
Several commissioners properly recognized the value and civic pride the Rays bring to St. Petersburg. In an ideal world, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster would be leading the public discussion. But Foster refuses to let the Rays evaluate stadium options in both Pinellas and Hillsborough, and the standoff with the team is not helpful. The Rays are a regional asset, and it is time to start that public conversation about ensuring that Major League Baseball remains in Tampa Bay.
St. Petersburg moves ahead on pier design
The St. Petersburg City Council made the only sensible decision Thursday by declining to schedule a voter referendum on the future of the Pier. Now the city can move forward with the new design that offers plenty of intriguing possibilities and lots of room for improvement.
The council members heard a wider range of opinions during the public hearing than save the existing outdated pier, which was not a valid option. Some speakers recognize that reality but don't like the proposed Lens. Others, particularly young professionals and business leaders, see the Lens' potential and were persuasive in urging the council not to be sidetracked by a referendum. Now it's time to refocus and engage the entire community in refining the vision.
The presentation of the Lens has not been flawless. The design is difficult to fully appreciate in artist renderings, and it needs to be more readily recognizable. It also was a mistake to put so much emphasis on an idealistic underwater feature without first consulting local marine science experts. Their realistic assessments about what is achievable in the bay could have headed off much of the criticism aimed at the Los Angeles architect.
On the plus side, the Lens design already is being refined to reflect residents' desire for more dining, more shade and more activities. City Council members are determined to remain engaged, and there should be plenty of opportunities for residents to make suggestions and for adjustments to be made that fit into the overall concept.
Council members Leslie Curran, Jeff Danner, Bill Dudley, Charlie Gerdes, Jim Kennedy and Steve Kornell stood up to considerable pressure and appropriately rejected a referendum. It was the right call, and it's time to move forward.