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Fans launch campaign to move Rays to Tampa

12:12 PM, Jul 11, 2009   |    comments
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  • Ryan Neubauer has started a petition to get the Rays to move to downtown Tampa.
    

With new reports from stadium-search group "The ABC Coalition" due next week, fans in Hillsborough County are launching a grass-roots effort to land the Rays a new home in Downtown Tampa.

Brandon resident Ryan Neubauer just launched BuildItDowntownTampa.org - a website and petition that he hopes will help move the Rays closer to residents of Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco, and Polk counties; creating a busier, "24-hour" downtown area of Tampa; and make sure the Rays don't threaten to break their lease for another community.

"We feel the St. Pete location is just too far removed from the center of the fan-base," said Neubauer of the current Tropicana Field site.  "(A downtown stadium) would be in the heart of the Rays' fan base in Hillsborough County."

Neubauer hopes to get 10,000 electronic signatures on his petition, but admits he doesn't have a specific spot downtown that he'd like a baseball stadium built.  He says he just wants Hillsborough County and City of Tampa officials to start discussing the topic now, so the Rays don't threaten to move away.

"It's unfortunate," he said.  "It doesn't have to come down to that.  It's what's best for the team and what's best for the region.

7/3/09 - BLOG: How the Rays' stadium saga will go down
6/16/09 - REPORT: Renovating The Trop too expensive
5/22/09 - BLOG: Location, Location, Location

Attendance Struggles

Despite the team's recent success and affordability for families (ESPN named them the most affordable team in sports), the Rays' average attendance ranks in baseball's bottom 5 for a 10th straight year.

"We're not shooting for the moon as far as people coming and packing the place," said Rays' principal owner Stuart Sternberg.  "We were hoping to be average this year - that was sort of an expectation and desire."

Many fans point to Tropicana Field's somewhat remote location as the reason.  The 30-minute drive from Tampa to the stadium in St. Petersburg can easily become a 45- to 60-minute drive in rush-hour traffic.

2009 MLB Attendance, through July 9
26. TAMPA BAY - 22,698
27. Cleveland - 22,178 
28. Pittsburgh - 18,485
29. Oakland - 18,127 
30. Florida - 18,117

2008 MLB Attendance
26. TAMPA BAY - 22,259
27. Oakland - 20,558
28. Pittsburgh - 20,113
29. Kansas City - 19,986
30. Florida - 16,668

"The numbers we're seeing this year are not what they can be," said Sternberg. "But, maybe that's how it's always going to be.  We're doing everything we can."

The ABC Coalition

The ABC Coalition is a community group assigned to study the best way to keep the Rays playing in Tampa Bay.  In a pair of meetings the week of July 13, the group is expected to discuss the pros and cons of five possible areas the Rays could build a new park.

  • Downtown St. Pete
  • Mid-Pinellas/Gateway
  • West Shore
  • Downtown Tampa
  • State Fairgrounds

The group's findings are non-binding but represent more than a year's work from local business leaders and community members from both sides of Tampa Bay.  In June, the group heard a presentation (paid for by the Rays) that concluded renovating Tropicana Field was not viable. 

The Current "Use Agreement"

The Rays' current lease (actually, it's a use agreement) with the City of St. Pete runs through 2027, but the bonds on the stadium will be paid off by 2014.   Some fans - and politicians - fear that the team could try and break the lease when the city doesn't have quite as much to lose.

Sternberg has made it clear a new stadium is a priority and - from what we've seen with other teams - franchises sometimes pit cities against each other to get taxpayer-paid stadiums.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker has said the Rays need to stay in the city, but his term expires this fall and the frontrunners vying to replace him have adopted different stances when it comes to working with the team.

You can follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky or Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Noah-Pransky/95411107517.

Noah Pransky, 10 Connects

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