Chamber to study Rays' stadium plan

Without taking a side, the group will form a task force to study all aspects of the proposal.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - Add the Chamber of Commerce to the growing list of influential voices hedging their bets on the Tampa Bay Rays' $1-billion stadium and redevelopment plan.

Chamber officials on Wednesday announced that they will spend four to six months investigating the effects of the Rays' proposal before taking a side. The chamber will form a 35-member task force of business and community leaders to lead the effort.

"I really think it is an issue of momentous impact," said Charlie Harris, chairman of the St. Petersburg chamber's board of governors, explaining the decision to delay a recommendation.

Chamber officials insisted that the creation of a study group, to be chaired by Tech Data CEO Steve Raymond and former state House Speaker Peter Wallace, should not be construed as tacit opposition to the Rays' plan.

But it's not an endorsement-in-waiting, either.

"We don't have all the information yet," said chamber CEO John Long. "This will help us be able to make the decision."

Harris said chamber members have voiced many of the same concerns that residents have in recent weeks.

There are questions about the deal's financing, the redevelopment of Tropicana Field, the parking and traffic plan for the new ballpark and the impact on downtown of a 34,000-seat stadium, Harris said.

Thoughts "range from, 'This is an exciting possibility,'" Harris said. "To, 'I live downtown and I am really concerned about this.'"

Meetings of the group will not be public, but chamber officials said the scope of work will be broad. The chamber has retained a professional stadium consultant from PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide an independent analysis.

Harris said he expects the Rays to provide detailed drawings and studies for the group to consider.

Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt said Wednesday the team would provide the chamber with whatever it needs. The Rays want to build a new outdoor stadium at Al Lang Field paid for, in large part, by the successful redevelopment of Tropicana Field.

But outside of Gov. Charlie Crist, no prominent leader has endorsed the idea.

Kalt said that should not come as a surprise.

"We're not asking for anyone to say they are for a project that doesn't have a financing plan," he said. "But at the end of the day, I think the chamber will see what we do - that this is good for the city of St. Petersburg."

A full list of the Chamber Blue Ribbon Task Force on Baseball, will be available next week, Harris said.

Harris said their work will be forwarded to the chamber's board of governors, which will make the final decision.

Fast facts:

On the study group

Members include Council of Neighborhood Associations president Barbara Heck, neighborhood activist Tim Baker, Raymond James chairman Dick Averitt, former St. Anthony's Hospital CEO Ford Kyes, Jabil Circuit chief executive Tim Main, Women's Tennis Association CEO Larry Scott, Craig Sher of the Sembler Co., Val-Pak president Joe Bourdow, Pinellas County Urban League president Gregory Johnson and University of South Florida St. Petersburg College of Business Dean Geralyn Franklin.