tampabay.com

So, let's just SAY the Trop's for sale ...

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published January 10, 2008


There was plenty of reassuring talk to open Wednesday evening's public meeting at Tropicana Field.

First, the moderator stressed, the meeting was only about an "if" - what the public wants to do with the 86-acre site of Tropicana Field if there's a new, waterfront baseball stadium.

The mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Baker, spoke next and said he wanted to make it clear the city has not committed to a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The chairman of the City Council, James Bennett, promised the 300-plus citizens there: "We're going to have as many meetings as it takes to be open and flowing and open to the public."

(Flowing?)

And by the way, Bennett added, the city has not taken a position on a new stadium.

There also were a few words from a spokesman for the Council of Neighborhood Associations. As it turns out, he said CONA has not taken a position either.

And so, once everyone had agreed they had taken no position on a new stadium, the meeting got down to the business of what to do with the old one.

That part, I thought, was very nice. The city had set up 40 or so tables out in right field, 10 seats at each table. Each table was equipped with aerial maps, easels and markers, and a city employee as discussion leader.

The participants threw out ideas and wishes for Tropicana Field and its surrounding real estate. One proposed use at several tables: keeping it as a baseball stadium.

A few of the other ideas included: green space. A new, modern library. Mixed residential and retail use. Parks. A tie-in for 21st century mass transit. Convention and hotel use. The city's Saturday morning market.

I liked the woman who, defiantly, kept holding up a "Save the Dome" sign. Who would have thought they would live to see it, back when the dome was being built amidst so much controversy two decades ago? She sat at the same table as Craig Sher, boss of the mega-developer Sembler Co.

So the citizens earnestly took part, and I hope that their ideas add up to something that can be of use when the city sends out its request for proposals from developers.

And yet ...

Throughout all of this, a practical person (not cynical, just practical) remembers one thing. Whatever happens at the Tropicana site, it has to generate something like, oh, heck, $300-million to put toward the new stadium.

That's just a - hah! - ballpark figure, of course. Part of that sum would come, presumably, from the city's direct sale of the Tropicana Field property to a developer. Part of it would come from borrowing against the future property taxes of all the neat stuff that would be built there.

And that's why, although libraries and green space and parks can and ought to be part of the deal, there has to be enough residential or commercial use to make it work.

Can it work? Beats me. The baseball team has really smart guys who say yes. Me, I just want the city to have equally smart guys who make sure the city is not at risk for a single penny if it doesn't work.

Overall, Wednesday night felt a little bit like the car salesman trying to get you to choose your floor mats, color and mud flaps before you have agreed to buy the car. It was a good thing, as everybody kept saying, that nobody is committed to anything.