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Guest Column
I love St. Pete and the Tampa Bay Rays | Column
As mayor of St. Pete, I firmly believe our powerful strength as a region includes all sides of the bay, all corners of Pinellas County and all surrounding counties from Citrus all the way down to Sarasota.
 
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch attends the city’s Tampa Bay Rays postseason event on Oct 3 at City Hall hours ahead of the wildcard playoffs against the Texas Rangers.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch attends the city’s Tampa Bay Rays postseason event on Oct 3 at City Hall hours ahead of the wildcard playoffs against the Texas Rangers. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 5, 2023

We Are St. Pete! With the hope of reaching the hearts and minds of our communities, I coined that phrase to reflect our administration’s intentional push for Inclusive Progress, Intentional Equity and Opportunities for All. When you’re in our town, you’ll see our city’s mantra proudly on display, most recently blazoned over the stands at Tropicana Field during Rays games.

As a lifelong, third generation resident and the 54th mayor of St. Petersburg, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a love for St. Pete greater than my own, and it’s been my special privilege to help seal the deal on the Tampa Bay Rays’ permanent home in St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

As we continue finalizing the agreements and working through the approval process with St. Petersburg City Council members and Pinellas County commissioners, there’s been a late attempt to resurrect an old debate to change the team’s name to the St. Petersburg Rays, as stated in the Tampa Bay Times editorial on Nov. 15. I recall this idea being mentioned more than 15 years ago while I served on the Pinellas County Commission, but then and now, I firmly believe our powerful strength as a region includes all sides of the bay, all corners of Pinellas County, and all surrounding counties from Citrus all the way down to Sarasota.

I’m confident in St. Pete’s special vibe and appeal as a unique and special part of our Tampa Bay community. But we are strongest as a region, and I proudly embrace our regional neighbors and look forward to welcoming them to St. Petersburg for upcoming Rays games. In fact, when I don my Tampa Bay Rays jersey, I do so with the pride of knowing our hometown team’s 25-year-old regional brand serves as a beacon to unite the bay area.

Your readers may also recall a huge name change 12 years ago when the St. Petersburg Times became the Tampa Bay Times for similar reasons. As a Pinellas County commissioner, I penned a 2011 column supporting that decision as well, noting our regional identity, diversity and assets were the keys to our future prosperity and long-term success.

There are notable comparisons for many professional sports teams throughout our country. For instance, the Atlanta Braves are now located in Cumberland, Georgia, because there was a desire for a stadium coupled with a mixed-use development (sounds familiar, right?). Both the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers play in Arlington, Texas. The Las Vegas Raiders reside in Paradise, Nevada. The Buffalo Bills are located in Orchard Park, New York. The New York Giants and New York Jets play in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Washington Commanders call Landover, Maryland, home. The San Francisco 49ers play in Santa Clara, California. Several legendary teams draw record crowds into those smaller cities.

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It’s worth underscoring that over the past couple years while out on the campaign trail and during our Community Conversations, our constituents made no calls for a name change. Instead, they wanted an equitable development that honors the Historic Gas Plant District, along with all the associated benefits, which included certainty on the Tampa Bay Rays’ future in our community. So, our administration is focused on impactful work that would deliver 1,200 affordable and workforce housing units, 30,000 construction jobs, more than 7,000 permanent jobs, $50 million in essential and ancillary community benefits, a commitment to minority and local hiring, and all the wages, sales tax and property taxes that would come back to the community.

At the same time, we will promote and elevate the profiles of St. Petersburg through our partnership with the Tampa Bay Rays in strategic ways. For example, I am eager and excited to see our players wearing a St. Pete branded uniform at different points throughout the season. You’ve likely already seen the new St. Pete signage inside Tropicana Field right now. I even love seeing the Rays’ mascots parade around in their brand new “We Are St. Pete” gear for our fans.

This is just the beginning. Visit St. Pete Clearwater and Pinellas County — key partners for the success of this generational development — are also working diligently on similar marketing efforts.

We’ve come a long way through planning, partnership and focus. Let’s stay vigilant and keep our eyes on what’s most important to our city and our region. Honoring the promises made to the Gas Plant community, keeping our Rays in St. Petersburg, and designing an equitable development that’ll serve generations to come. We Are St. Pete and we are proud to be an integral part of the Tampa Bay region.

Kenneth T. Welch is the mayor of St. Petersburg.