tampabay.com

Group lends positive voice to Rays plan

By Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG - A group of residents and business owners eager to see plans for a new waterfront stadium become a reality have formed a political action committee in support of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Members of Fans for Waterfront Stadium plan to rally on behalf of the proposal during a City Council hearing Thursday. The meeting will mark the first of a series of public discussions on the proposed downtown stadium.

"We wanted to create a forum where people could voice their support," said Kenny Locke, founder of the group. "Sometimes supporters are not as vocal as the opposition. That needs to change. The City Council needs to hear the other side of the story."

Locke, a St. Petersburg native and longtime baseball fan, said he was thrilled when he first learned of the Rays' plan to build an outdoor stadium at Al Lang Field.

The proposal that Tropicana Field be redeveloped into a residential and commercial complex to pay for the new stadium was just icing on the cake, Locke said.

"Right now we have 80-plus acres of prominent land, and the vast majority of it is a parking lot," he said. "The idea that it will be redeveloped is very exciting."

Fans for Waterfront Stadium is the second political action committee formed this month in response to the Rays' proposal.

Hal Freedman, founder of POWW, or Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront, said his group has a number of concerns about the plan, including how the stadium will affect marine life in Tampa Bay, whether taxpayers will end up footing the bill if the Tropicana Field redevelopment doesn't work out, and whether there is enough parking downtown to support the ballpark, which will not include a parking garage.

"To throw a major sports team right in the middle of that area makes no sense," he said. "It's going to make downtown totally inaccessible to anyone but the fans."

But Locke said the team deserves the benefit of the doubt. "I don't personally believe the Rays are going to build a $450-million stadium on the waterfront without addressing those issues," he said. "This current ownership group has delivered on every promise that they have made so far, so I think they have earned the right to be listened to."

Other baseball fans are equally enthusiastic. Mark Ferguson, owner of Ferg's Sports Bar on Central Avenue, said joining Fans for Waterfront Stadium was a no-brainer.

"This is going to be the crown jewel of Florida. It's going to be awesome," he said.