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Stadium report says everything the Tampa Bay Rays could have hoped

ST. PETERSBURG — So let's go over some of the issues addressed by the ABC Coalition in regard to the Rays' stadium situation:

That a new facility with a retractable roof is actually needed? Check.

That it should be in a more central location than downtown St. Petersburg? Check.

That public funding should probably account for 70-80 percent of the cost? Um, checkbook?

Short of finding some sucker to take Pat Burrell off their hands, this report pretty much accomplished everything the Rays could have wanted this off-season. It acknowledged Tropicana Field is an inferior facility. It acknowledged downtown is an inferior location. And it put a voice to the warning that the team could eventually flee if the stadium situation isn't resolved.

And the best part of all for the Rays?

They didn't have to say a single word.

The Rays didn't have to threaten. They didn't have to cajole or whine. They didn't have to go through an uphill fight to convince people they weren't just posturing when they said the team could not remain competitive long-term at Tropicana Field.

Now, and forever more, the Rays need only point to the conclusions found by an independent group of highly respected business and civic leaders for evidence. And if that doesn't work, they can turn to Bud Selig to be their bag man.

Which is why, at this point, the Rays are playing it cool. There was no I-told-you-so moment from the team's management. The official word on Tuesday was that owner Stuart Sternberg had just received the ABC Coalition's report, and the team was still "digesting" the findings.

So here's the 7 Minute Abs version of those findings:

The Rays are a valuable asset to the community, both in national perception and in actual economic impact. But Tampa Bay has some challenges as a sports market, and those challenges must be offset by an optimum stadium situation.

Since Tropicana Field is antiquated, and downtown St. Pete is too far from the population and corporate center of Tampa Bay, a new stadium will eventually be required. Furthermore, most communities across the country have invested substantial public funds in similar situations.

Granted, those findings are hardly groundbreaking, but it helps the Rays to have them pointed out concisely and dispassionately by some very smart people who spent more than a year researching the issue.

For what this does, in a way, is take the onus off the Rays and puts it back on the community. If the bay area wants the advantages of being a Major League Baseball market, it has to figure out a way to keep the team here.

Now you could certainly point out that the Rays have a lease at Tropicana Field that runs through 2026, and so the team is contractually obligated to stay put in downtown St. Pete for years to come. But the closer we get to the end of the lease, the less intimidating it gets to break. And if another community is motivated enough to lure the Rays, it could also pick up the tab in legal fees.

Relocation has been rare in Major League Baseball in recent years, but the ABC report certainly considered it a possibility.

"The loss of Major League Baseball would leave a substantial hole in the region," it read. "Yet, its continued presence in Tampa Bay is threatened."

Threatened, in this case, is a broad term. I wouldn't expect any verbal threats. At least not from the Rays. The typical way these things unfold is for Selig or MLB president Bob DuPuy to show up at some point and express concern for the market's viability. And then other communities such as Portland or Brooklyn or San Antonio begin sniffing around to see if the Rays are candidates for relocation.

To be honest, that type of maneuvering is superfluous. It doesn't matter what the commissioner says or what other cities do.

The bottom line is Tampa Bay has a choice to make in the coming years. This community has to decide whether it wants to be in the business of Major League Baseball. If so, it will invest in a new stadium and the Rays will remain here. If not, the situation with the Rays will eventually deteriorate to the point that Sternberg probably sells the team to an out-of-town buyer who moves it elsewhere.

That's essentially what the ABC Coalition report was saying.

And the Rays could not have said it better themselves.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Stadium report says everything the Tampa Bay Rays could have hoped 01/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 10:24pm]
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