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  1. Opinion

Editorial: St. Petersburg commits unforced errors on stadium site search

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has a curious way of building public enthusiasm to invest in a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. First his chief of staff pops off and insults North Pinellas fans; then the mayor brushes off Sen. Jack Latvala’s request to include county leaders on a city committee charged with generating more business support for the Rays.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has a curious way of building public enthusiasm to invest in a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. First his chief of staff pops off and insults North Pinellas fans; then the mayor brushes off Sen. Jack Latvala’s request to include county leaders on a city committee charged with generating more business support for the Rays.
Published Apr. 29, 2016

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has a curious way of building public enthusiasm to invest in a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. First his chief of staff insults North Pinellas fans by suggesting Oldsmar may as well be in Georgia. Then the mayor brushes off Sen. Jack Latvala's request to include county leaders on a committee charged with generating more business support for the Rays. This is no way to create the broad coalition required to build an expensive new stadium and persuade the team to remain in the region.

The stadium site search has gotten off to an uneven start since the St. Petersburg City Council finally signed off on an agreement negotiated by Kriseman and the Rays to let the team explore potential stadium sites in two counties. In Hillsborough, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan and a handful of others are meeting in private and it is unclear how they would come up with the public money to help build a stadium. In Pinellas, county commissioners are conspicuously quiet and the baseball committee created by Kriseman and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce is focused on generating sponsorships and ticket sales for the Rays and promoting the Trop site. Some committee members are frustrated, and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg sounds less than thrilled about the progress.

Now the Kriseman administration has twice hurt its own stadium efforts. After Oldsmar officials suggested they might have a site for a new stadium, Kriseman's chief of staff was unnecessarily dismissive. "To me, Oldsmar's like Georgia,'' Kevin King said. That is no way to persuade North Pinellas fans to drive to St. Petersburg for a game, and Kriseman should have publicly rejected that characterization. Oldsmar may not be the best place for a new stadium, but there was no need for a snarky retort from King, who continues to create more enemies than friends for the mayor.

Kriseman did himself no favors by dismissing Latvala's call for expanding the city's baseball committee to include county voices. The mayor's response reinforced the notion in North Pinellas that St. Petersburg is too often out for itself — a perception Kriseman has worked hard to overcome. He has significantly improved relationships with county commissioners and administrators that were fractured by previous mayors, and this is an unforced error. Kriseman told the Times editorial board Friday that he is inviting Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch, whose district includes the Trop, to join the baseball committee. He said he will support other Pinellas sites if the Rays rule out the Trop location for a new home.

Good. The county resort tax paid for a big portion of the dome's cost, and it will be needed to help pay for a new stadium, regardless of whether it would be in St. Petersburg or in the county. County commissioners approve how the resort tax is spent, and St. Petersburg cannot build a major league baseball stadium or a minor league soccer stadium without them.

It's understandable Kriseman's first choice is to build a new stadium on the Trop site. But there are possible Pinellas sites outside St. Petersburg, including the Derby Lane dog track and other sites just north of the city limits. This is no time to get parochial, alienate partners and insult North Pinellas baseball fans. The goal should remain to work as a region to find the best location for a stadium and secure the long-term future of the Rays.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who will chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee after the November elections, says he still stands ready to help the stadium effort. There also may be a move to form a separate county baseball committee, which would not be productive. Kriseman should extend an olive branch, expand the city's group to include more county voices and move forward.