The saga over where to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays grew murkier Tuesday as Pinellas County unveiled a list with 10 possible sites that officials hope could keep the team from crossing the bay.
Pinellas County commissioners didn't press county administrator Mark Woodard or staffers for details on the 10 sites, but the elected leaders said the next step is for the team to meet with county officials to discuss the sites.
"It would be important to find out if the Rays want to be here," said Vice Chairwoman Janet Long.
John Higgins, the team's senior vice president/general counsel, attended the 30-minute presentation.
Team officials, he said, did not have much time to examine the report since receiving it Monday night. Still, Higgins promised that each site suggested by the county would receive "full and fair" consideration.
"We welcome the dialogue," he said. "It will take some time to digest this."
The Pinellas report is a bid aimed at keeping the Rays from moving to Hillsborough County — which has its own potential stadium sites, though none would be a perfect or easy fit for a new baseball stadium.
The Pinellas sites range from 20 acres to 135 acres and are owned by the county, state and private individuals. The only location examined in St. Petersburg is the area around Tropicana Field. County officials said the owners of privately held sites on the list have not been asked to sell the land.
The nearly vacant locations sit in Clearwater, Oldsmar, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg and unincorporated areas. The largest site, the Derby Lane dog track, is 135 acres on Gandy Boulevard N in an unincorporated area.
The report includes a breakdown that identifies the number of businesses, employees and residents, as well as the median income within a five, 15 and 30-minute drive of each site. The report does not rank any of the sites, but it says each could meet the criteria set by the Rays.
Commissioners Ken Welch and Dave Eggers asked staffers to present similar information for any other available sites in St. Petersburg, although Mayor Rick Kriseman favors the property around Tropicana Field. Welch urged commission Chairman Charlie Justice and Woodard to meet with the team for in-depth talks.
Eggers then said the Rays need to discuss the price tag for a stadium, adding: "I would like to hone in on that reality."
Rays president Brian Auld and senior vice president Melanie Lenz, who is leading the ballpark search, were in Denver with the team Tuesday. Auld told the Tampa Bay Times by telephone that the cost will be site specific and that the size and shape of the property and its location will be factors. He noted that several of the sites hadn't been explored by the Rays previously.
"If we had been in town we certainly would have been there," Auld said, adding that he welcomed the presentation.
An 88-acre site in Oldsmar on Race Track Road caused a stir recently when Kriseman's chief of staff compared a trip to Oldsmar to traveling to Georgia. That brought a sharp rebuke from Long, who said the city wasn't being an effective partner with the county and criticized the St. Petersburg-centric composition of a campaign to keep the Rays in town, called Baseball Forever.
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Since then, Welch has joined Baseball Forever.
The city wasn't surprised by the county's list, said Rick Mussett, Baseball Forever's coordinator. Kriseman has been in contact with Woodard about the issue, he said.
No one from the city attended the meeting.
"We had heard the county was doing its due diligence at sites," Mussett said. "We think it's a good thing. … We need as many shots at a home run as we can get."
Other sites within St. Petersburg city limits, such as Darry LeClair's Carillon Town Center, have been considered as options in recent years.
No city-owned site will be offered, Mussett said. Al Lang Stadium was the focus of the Rays last effort to build a new ballpark. A waterfront stadium on the Al Lang site with some filling in of part of Tampa Bay was pitched by the team in 2007. But a planned November 2008 referendum was postponed indefinitely when public opposition developed.
Some suitable private parcels within St. Petersburg may emerge, Mussett said, but not many exist.
"We're pretty built out," Mussett said.
One site that didn't make the list is Toytown, the 240-acre former landfill at Interstate 275 and Roosevelt Boulevard. The Atlanta Braves looked at the site for a spring training facility and amateur sports complex but then backed away in February.
The Rays have never been interested in the site, though commissioners asked Tuesday for more information on the site.
This map shows the possible locations for the stadium. Blue dots are locations that didn't end up on the top 10 potential sites, while red dots made the cut.
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