Tampa Bay Rays
Council Hears From Public On Rays' Stadium
ST. PETERSBURG - More than 100 people spoke at Thursday night's hearing on the Tampa Bay Rays' downtown stadium proposal, with the majority objecting to the project. An estimated crowd of 200 flooded the city council chambers, which hold 125, and spilled into two other rooms in city hall as well as an adjacent church equipped with closed-circuit television monitors. Many stadium critics adorned themselves in red - ribbons, buttons, shirts, anything with the color that symbolized stopping the project - as the anti-stadium group Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront had urged. Those who supported the stadium plans wore white T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of a newly formed pro-stadium group called Fans for Waterfront Stadium.By the time the 3 1/2 -hour forum ended at 10 p.m., the council had heard from nearly 110 speakers. About 70 were against the proposal the Rays announced in November to redevelop their current home at Tropicana Field and construct a $450 million ballpark at Progress Energy Park, home of spring training site Al Lang Field, by 2012. "I think the biggest thing is the Devil Rays heard this tonight," council chairman James Bennett said. "You can talk to us all day long, but I think that message needs to go to the Rays as to how the community feels." Council members took no action. They will hold two more public hearings, on April 10 and May 22, and a March 6 forum on alternative uses for Al Lang Field before deciding by June 5 whether to authorize a November referendum on a new stadium. People began arriving at city hall three hours before the hearing so they could sign up to speak. Each had three minutes to share their opinions and were urged to refrain from public displays or outbursts. One opponent, Caesar Civitella, wore black to illustrate his point that the stadium proposal "will be dead on arrival when residents of St. Petersburg vote in November, assuming the issue is on the ballot." Other critics said the proposal would harm St. Petersburg's public waterfront and would benefit only the team's owners. They scoffed at the Rays' claim that the project would not cost taxpayers any new money. "Our economy is in dire straits," Marilyn Hafling said. "We have people losing their homes daily. The best we can do for our homeless is a tent city. Our tax money is needed for many things other than a stadium." Supporters countered that the Rays' proposal would enhance the waterfront and showcase it to a nationally televised audience. They also said the residential and retail complex proposed for the Tropicana site would generate increased tax revenue for local governments and would create thousands of jobs. "This stadium proposal is a home run and it will benefit all the citizens," said Dick Ruzicka, a downtown resident. "There's great support for this project." Rays president Matt Silverman and vice president Michael Kalt attended. They gave assurances that the team would continue to meet with community groups to discuss the plans and answer questions about financing, parking, traffic and environmental concerns. "There are a number of misconceptions out there," Kalt said. "I think it's largely because we're very early in the process. We don't have all the answers. We will readily admit that to anyone who asks. However, we do think this is a project that has potential for tremendous benefits to the entire city of St. Petersburg."
Reporter Carlos Moncada can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 451-2333.