The Tampa Bay Rays packed-up for Spring Training in Port Charlotte today, leaving behind the political game being played over their future in the Bay area. Rays owners told both Hillsborough and Pinellas commissioners they need the freedom to look for a new stadium site.
Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch said he's okay with that, for a price. "My main concern is that the citizens of Pinellas county have some compensation for the sizeable investment we've made. That's $100-million invested from Pinellas county," said Welch.
But because a contract binds the Rays to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg until 2027, Welch said it's up to the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Bill Foster, to work it out with the team. "I think we need to move forward. This stalemate cannot continue," said Welch.
In the past, business groups identified three potential stadium sites in the Bay area, including Mid-Pinellas, Downtown Tampa, and Tampa's Westshore area.
"It's Major League Baseball's conclusion that you really need your stadium within a 30 minute drive for your fans. That's the ideal scenario," said Tampa Sports Authority spokesman, Bobby Silvest. The Tampa Sports Authority manages two stadiums and several golf courses in Hillsborough county. Also, Silvest said the team needs to consider where it will get the best business backing that's crucial to filling the seats on weekdays.
Meantime, the Tampa Bay Partnership, an economic development group, released this statement:
"The Tampa Bay Partnership continues to hear from business leaders about the importance of keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the region. As the regional economic development organization, we will step up our involvement to educate the community of the importance Major League Baseball and all professional sports play in our economic competitiveness as a region. We will play an objective role to aid in moving the conversation on this topic forward. "
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