Report urges Hillsborough, Pinellas to work together to keep Rays

8:20 PM, Jan 25, 2010   |    comments
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CLEARWATER, Florida - The ABC Coalition concluded its final scheduled meeting by approving a 22-page recommendation and pleading with the communities on both sides of Tampa Bay to cooperate for the greater good.

There were no new surprises on Monday from the group of community leaders commissioned 16 months ago to study the long-term feasibility of baseball in Tampa Bay.

Rough drafts of the report had been available for months and indicated the need for a new stadium closer to the center of population in Tampa.

The report did not address any specific locations, but suggests a new stadium should be somewhere between Pinellas County's "Gateway" region (near the Bay bridges) and Downtown Tampa.

Click here for 10 Connects' continuing coverage of the Rays' Stadium Saga.

The coalition found the Rays are right to assert the current stadium near Downtown St. Pete is too remote for most fans to frequently visit, and that Tampa Bay will need to band together to get a new stadium deal done.

"This is all one region," said Rays' Senior Vice President Michael Kalt. "We're committed to this process and this region, so I don't think anyone has any reason to worry, no matter if they're in St. Pete or Tampa or Pasco County."

Kalt, who had long maintained the team would have no official comment until the ABC Coalition finished its research, said the team now needs time to digest the "landmark" report.

He says the Rays learned their lesson from their waterfront stadium proposal and won't go racing out to talk to public officials until they see how the ABC report is received.

Kalt did, however, repeat that he hoped leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay would put aside their differences and work together to keep the Rays in the area.  It's an assertion echoed several times by members of the coalition.

"Baseball is regional, just like transit or education," said ABC Coalition member Craig Sher.  "We need to take a regional approach...not just one city."

"We have a whole group of strong communities situated around Tampa Bay," said ABC Coalition Chairman Jeff Lyash.  "When we overcome that (and) come together as a region, we are incredibly effective.

"Look at what's developing with regional transportation," Lyash continued, referencing TBARTA's long-term plan for light-rail.  "We can do it in this case."

Lyash met with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster Monday afternoon and plans to present the final report to both the St. Petersburg City Council and Pinellas County Commission sometime in February.

He said the coalition can then consider bringing the report to fans and "other leadership groups," implying elected officials in Hillsborough County.

"A ballpark that creates a community experience is an important part of a Major League Baseball team's success," said Lyash.  "It is going to be a regional effort...this team can't survive unless the entire region supports it."

The Rays have a use agreement with the City of St. Petersburg to play at Tropicana Field through 2026, but say the time to discuss a new stadium is now so the pieces are in place when the economy rebounds.  The coalition suggests the team could leave town before then, if a new stadium isn't in the cards.

UPDATE: Kalt became the second MLB executive to literally laugh-out-loud at a published report about Orlando recruiting a baseball team.  When asked for his reaction to it, he uttered, "no comment" through his chuckles.

Follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky, Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky, or on his Sports vs. News blog, Shadow of the Stadium.

Noah Pransky, 10 Connects

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