Rays get right man behind their corner
Florida governor backs team's plan for new downtown ballpark
ST. PETERSBURG -- According to a St. Petersburg Times report posted on its Web site, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist expressed his sentiments on Wednesday afternoon to get behind the Rays' efforts for a new 35,000-seat ballpark on the site of Al Lang Field in downtown St. Petersburg.
Crist, who hails from St. Petersburg, said he has "pretty much" pledged to do whatever he can to help the Rays get the money and political help needed from the state to make the project a reality.
Crist's comments were his first since a Times report on Friday disclosed that the Rays were looking into building a $450 million stadium on the team's current Spring Training site.
"I think the opportunity to create an ambiance right on the waterfront in St. Petersburg is brilliant, I really do," Crist told reporters in Tallahassee, Fla., the state capital. "It provides jobs, jobs, jobs for a lot of people."
State funding for a portion of the stadium's cost could be a difficult proposition given the Marlins' unsuccessful attempts to gain assistance for a new ballpark, which is one reason why the Rays interpreted the governor's comments on Wednesday as a positive.
Rays team president Matt Silverman addressed Crist's comments by issuing the following statement: "The governor's words speak for themselves. We are very pleased to have his support."
The Rays might contribute as much as $150 million -- to cover a third of the costs -- and the team would also seek legislative approval for $60 million of future sales tax revenue from the state of Florida to make the 35,000-seat, open-air stadium a reality by 2012. In addition, the Rays want to find a private developer to construct a large retail/residential complex where Tropicana Field sits, so the team can get out of its lease.
Al Lang Field has been the site of the Rays' Spring Training exhibition games throughout the team's history, but the club is scheduled to move from the locale on the St. Petersburg waterfront to Port Charlotte, Fla., for Spring Training in 2009. Because Al Lang Field is housed on public property, voters would need to approve the new stadium. Also, the plan would depend on the city being able to sell the Al Lang site to Pinellas County, which would create a situation where property taxes could be avoided. If the deal comes to fruition, the Rays would seek a long-term deal.
Approximately $100 million is still owed by the city on Tropicana Field, which will not be paid off until 2025. St. Petersburg could recover what it owes if a private developer purchased Tropicana Field and the adjacent parking lot.
Crist noted it would be "kind of sad" to see Tropicana Field torn down, but he added, "The waterfront in St. Petersburg is glorious, as it is all over the state."
While the proposed stadium is open air, the plan calls for an available option that would allow the facility to be covered when needed with a sail-like material on a cabling system in the event of inclement weather.
Under this stadium plan, the design is expected to have a retro look. Longtime fans attending games at Al Lang Field would need to get used to having the playing field face a different direction to facilitate a ballpark that would allow home run balls hit to right land in the water, akin to McCovey Cove at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.