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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Baseball could be blowing into this port

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The guys down at Pach’s Cafe, into their third or fourth cups of coffee, thought it was a good deal.

Of course, they are all former jocks, or at least they lay claim to some trophy or another — even if it’s the “Expanding Legend Telling Award.” And they smelled the deal as one more step toward bringing Major League Baseball across the bay to downtown Big Guava.

“The Deal” was the announcement this week that the Tampa Port Authority has put together a package nearing $6 million, in cash no less, to buy out the sinking Channelside retail complex.

“It’s like firing up a lawn mower engine,” said one. “Now things will start to happen.” I didn’t quite get the analogy. Firing up an engine is one thing; finding someone to push the mower another.

But you had to admit the sale is likely to move things along in the baseball stadium dream department. Despite all the cautionary warnings about traffic and studies that show this may not be such a wonderful idea, there are counter-claims that this is the only site; that if baseball is going to have any chance of flourishing in this market, this is the place.

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It could be they are right. Personally, I figure a downtown arena might generate a few thousand more fans than the Rays are pulling in at Tropicana Field, but I don’t know that in the long run that is going to be enough to keep them here. What they are going to need in this money game are companies willing to buy lots of tickets and to fill up corporate boxes.

So far they seem to be in hiding.

For one thing, the port authority, which I always assumed was there to make sure the channel was dredged and that the container ship terminals were in place, was about to get into the retail, entertainment and even baseball business.

But then the authority has that one thing that could make it all work ... money.

Sure, it’s your money, but that makes it even better.

There is always more where that came from.

At least you can always count on a government entity such as the port authority to do the right thing. There was that little brush-up we reported on involving former Port Authority board member William “Hoe” Brown, where the manager of the Hillsborough County Homeless Recovery Board gave Brown $625,000 to put clients in Brown’s alleged substandard housing.

But that’s our county, which has gotten more and more into the development business, with its incentives to big-box stores while ignoring the needs of the small business people who stand to get crushed.

But I’m digressing. Having the authority take control of the Channelside mess is probably a good idea.

And if it turns out, somewhere down the line, that a new baseball stadium happens to become a reality in the Channelside area, then I want to be on the good side of the authority people.

My guess is they are going to have their own skybox, probably right next to the county commission’s box, and I need a couple of tickets.

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