Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Could Derby Lane be the winning ticket in Rays stadium search?

Published Dec. 18, 2016

When considering stadium sites in Tampa Bay for the Rays, there is one important factor that cannot be overlooked:

The perfect site does not exist.

Downtown Tampa would be ideal, but adequate land and financing will be hard to come by. Downtown St. Petersburg has room and funding mechanisms, but a rotten track record with attendance. Other locations have their upsides, but most of them have more downsides.

So why is it important to point this out?

Because it adds a certain wild-card element to the chase. If one site does not stand clearly above the rest, then the final choice could hinge on the details involved.

And that brings us to Derby Lane, a site rarely listed among the favorites but increasingly appealing in some circles. It may eventually be Pinellas County's best chance of keeping the Rays from packing up and crossing a bridge into Hillsborough County.

That doesn't make Derby Lane a frontrunner today. Downtown Tampa remains the favored choice for the Rays, even if the team's options have been limited by Jeff Vinik's expanding empire.

But if the cost is too high in Tampa, Derby Lane could be an intriguing fallback because of its proximity to Hillsborough. Which is the same reason that a Gandy Boulevard site was once the leading contender, when the Pinellas Sports Authority was shopping for stadium land in the early 1980s.

Back then, local officials were looking across the street from Derby Lane, where the Brighton Bay apartment complexes were eventually built. Today, Derby Lane's 130 acres could be in play because of the declining appeal of greyhound racing.

So would Derby Lane's owners sell?

In the right situation, yes.

Derby Lane president Richard Winning, who is the great-grandson of the track's original owner, says his current focus is expanding the gaming options beyond a poker room and pari-mutuel wagering. He said he hasn't talked to the Rays about selling but has heard enough chatter to have considered it.

One thing that could hasten the conversation is if the Florida Legislature passes a decoupling bill in the spring. Decoupling would allow pari-mutuel facilities to continue offering poker ­— and perhaps other games — even if they no longer have dog or horse racing. In that scenario, the dog track could make way for a baseball stadium while Derby Lane could continue its profitable poker room.

(How Major League Baseball would feel about that is another question entirely.)

Decoupling had some momentum in the Florida Senate last year but died in appropriations. State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who has publicly supported Derby Lane as a potential stadium site, is now the chairman of the appropriations committee and said he expects decoupling to be raised in the upcoming legislative session.

Another potential advantage — or stumbling block — would be the city of St. Petersburg's role. Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council favor redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site with a new stadium built on the eastern edge. But would they throw their support, and building funds, behind a Derby Lane effort, if it meant keeping the Rays in Pinellas County?

A possible enticement would be annexing the Derby Lane property, which currently sits just outside the city's border. It would technically keep the Rays in St. Petersburg, while also increasing the city's tax base if hotels and other businesses were built around the stadium.

The idea involves a lot of moving pieces and may prove to be too farfetched.

But, then again, how enthusiastic are the Rays going to be about recommitting themselves to downtown St. Petersburg when it has become obvious that Hillsborough fans are not driving that far?

And will Rays owner Stu Sternberg be willing to spend a boatload of his own money if there is little political clout to fund a stadium in downtown Tampa?

Derby Lane is still a long shot. And it's far from being a perfect site.

But which site is?

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  2. Richard Swearingen, Florida's Commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, testifies before state lawmakers on Monday. Florida Channel
    But law enforcement officials are getting behind a “threat assessment system.”
  3. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  4. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  5. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  6. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  7. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  8. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  9. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  10. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement