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Romano: Yes, please, I'd like the Rays stadium in my back yard

Published Apr. 19, 2016

So you might have heard talk of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties getting together to build the Rays a stadium near Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar.

And, being the astute observer that you are, you might have wondered if the concept was as loony as it sounds.

Actually, no.

So does that mean there's a chance it will happen?

Heck no.

The idea has some vague appeal, but far too many downsides, not the least of which is nobody builds a stadium in the suburbs without an interstate or rail system nearby.

But this isn't a column about Oldsmar, it's a column inspired by Oldsmar. In Charlie Frago's story of the city's pitch in Sunday's Times, there was a quote from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's chief of staff.

"If the Rays want to alienate St. Petersburg and Tampa, it may be ideal,'' said Kevin King. "To me, Oldsmar's like Georgia.''

If you don't take it too seriously, King's line was amusing. But it was also instructive. And it perfectly captures the dilemma the Rays are facing.

Think about what King said, and then turn it around:

To someone in New Tampa, downtown St. Pete may as well be Georgia. Ditto for a baseball fan in Riverview. Or one in East Lake Woodlands.

A 40-minute drive north is no different from a 40-minute drive south. Or east. Or west. And that's what you get in a market with no mass transportation and no dominant center.

Similarly, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan missed the point recently when he blamed some of the attendance woes on Tropicana Field's "terrible location.'' Downtown St. Pete may or may not be the right location, but it is not a terrible location.

And that belatedly leads to my point:

There is no perfect location.

And everyone on both sides of the bay needs to recognize this or we may be doomed to the same outcomes seen recently in other communities.

In St. Louis, the fighting over funding and location for a football stadium eventually led the Rams to return to Los Angeles. And in Miami, the stadium debate went on for so long that the Marlins eventually settled on a less-than-ideal location.

So why is it important to acknowledge all of this?

Because Tampa Bay is like the runt of baseball markets. It doesn't have the corporate strength, infrastructure, generational history or disposable income of other markets. That doesn't mean major league baseball won't work here. It just means a stadium has got to be part of the solution, and not another drawback.

This is why it was important for the Rays to be able to look everywhere in the market. And it's why each location has to be looked at with a fresh eye and an open mind.

It's also why, ultimately, a plan for mass transit may have as much to do with a stadium's success or failure as a potential location.

Tampa Bay is a unique market in a lot of ways, so it may need a unique solution. Build a stadium on the county line with contributions from both Hillsborough and Pinellas? Highly unlikely. Maybe even goofy. But it doesn't hurt to consider it.

Look, chances are the stadium is not going to be built in your back yard. Or even your downtown. But driving 40 minutes for a big league game sounds a whole lot better than actually driving to Georgia.

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