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New Rays stadium could be part of fairgrounds project

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: July 12, 2013 at 03:40 AM
TAMPA -

Add another name to the list of people proposing a baseball stadium site in Hillsborough County: Dick Greco.

The former Tampa mayor, who does real estate consulting, is representing an unnamed development firm that is considering leasing land at the Florida State Fairgrounds. The company would build a mixed-use project that could include hotels, shops and restaurants.

It also could include a Major League Baseball stadium. Recently, Greco has shown various civic and government leaders an artist's rendering showing a stadium at the fairgrounds. Greco confirmed that his client is interested in having a baseball stadium, but insisted that a ballpark is not the driving force behind the development project.

He also said it could be a long time before the Tampa Bay Rays would be free to relocate from downtown St. Petersburg, if they choose to do so. The Rays have a lease with the city of St. Petersburg that obligates them to play at Tropicana Field through 2027, he noted.

"It could be a soccer stadium, it could be anything," Greco said of the stadium in his project.

Greco said he expects to present a formal plan in a few months to the Florida State Fair Authority, which would have to approve leasing the land. The fair authority is an entity under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

While Greco wouldn't go into details, he said hotels would be a natural fit because they could capitalize on all the traffic in and out of the nearby Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Michael Kalt, a development official for the Rays, could not be reached for comment about Greco's plan. In the past, the team has not commented on developer proposals to move the team.

Even if Greco somewhat downplayed the stadium possibility, it appears to be the first official word of someone proposing a stadium site in Hillsborough County. This week, news reports surfaced that someone is piecing together land for a potential baseball stadium in downtown Tampa's Channelside area. However, the reports cited unnamed sources.

Some Tampa residents and politicians would welcome a stadium in Hillsborough County, but no politician appears willing to support using public funds to help pay for one in the current economy. A new stadium could be expected to cost nearly $500 million, and the public often foots the majority of new stadium costs.

The prospect of a stadium in Tampa got a boost last year, when a group called the ABC Coalition found that two of the three best sites in the Bay area for a ballpark are in Hillsborough County.

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker created the ABC Coalition to study whether the Rays need a new stadium, and if so, where it should be. The mayor assumed the group would limit their research to possible St. Petersburg locations.

However, the group - which only has the power to make recommendations - looked at the entire Bay area and determined that the best potential sites were the Gateway area of St. Petersburg, which is just over the Howard Frankland bridge, downtown Tampa and Tampa's Westshore area. The fairgrounds was mentioned as a potential location by the ABC Coalition, but it was ranked lower because of its more distant location and weaker demographics.

So far, St. Petersburg officials have declined to meet with the ABC Coalition to discuss its findings, and it's not clear that the Pinellas County Commission will either. St. Petersburg leaders fear that if they meet with the coalition, it could hurt the integrity of the city's contract with the Rays.

This week Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan sent a letter to the ABC Coalition inviting the group to speak to the commission. At a Hillsborough County Commission meeting Wednesday, commissioners insisted they are not trying to steal the team from St. Petersburg and only want to help keep the Rays in the Bay area.


Reporter Michael Sasso can be reached at (813) 259-7865.

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