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Tampa Bay Partnership wants in stadium debate

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 11:11 AM
TAMPA -

If there's a consensus in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium debate, it's that the region must come together on the issue, which shines a spotlight on the region's economic development group, the Tampa Bay Partnership.

That group says it wants to play a stronger role in the stadium issue.

Theoretically, that could mean facilitating discussions among the Rays, St. Petersburg leaders and others. The group is proceeding cautiously, however, and still trying to figure out how to get involved.

"There's not a conversation that I have with someone about economic development and jobs without someone saying, 'What are you doing about keeping baseball here?' " said Stuart Rogel, the partnership chief executive officer.

This has been an important month in the Rays stadium saga. Last week, Rays managing partner Stuart Sternberg met with Hillsborough County commissioners and suggested Major League Baseball has lost faith in the Bay area. On Tuesday, Sternberg met with Pinellas County commissioners and made his case for a new stadium.

The team wants to be able to look across the Bay area for a new stadium, including in Tampa. But it's stuck in a protracted stalemate with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who has insisted the team look no further than St. Petersburg.

Behind the scenes, some members of the Tampa Bay Partnership have been pushing the group to step into the debate. The partnership is an economic development group that includes some of the biggest names in business, including TECO Energy, BayCare Health, Bright House Networks, and several city and county economic development agencies.

Last week, Rogel alerted the businesses and governments that make up his organization that it would get more involved in the issue.

Bob McCann, an executive vice president at Nielsen and a senior board member of the partnership, pointed back at Stern berg's comments to Hillsborough County commissioners last week. Shortly after Sternberg said baseball had lost faith in the Bay area, Major League Baseball issued a press release saying, "The status quo is simply not sustainable."

"If that's not negotiating posture, and Major League Baseball really thinks this community can't support baseball, that's a problem," McCann said.

The Tampa Bay Partnership would seem well-positioned to tackle the stadium issue. Its new chairman is Tampa businessman Chuck Sykes, who has been involved in the Rays stadium issue for a few years. He served on the ABC Coalition that studied the stadium issue and more recently co-chaired a group of chamber of commerce officials who studied ways to pay for a new stadium.

Sykes could not be reached for comment.

Meantime, Rays President Matt Silverman is on the partnership's board of directors. On Tuesday, he said it is "very satisfying" that the group wants to have a more active voice in the matter.

For now, Rogel said, the group isn't sure exactly how it can be involved. He says the group definitely wants to educate the community and other businesses about how important it is to keep the Rays in town.

Up to this point, the group hasn't opined about whether the Rays need a new stadium. Also, no one has asked the partnership to be a mediator in the debate, Rogel said, even though it ostensibly would be an impartial participant.

However, the group feels an obligation to think about ways to keep the Rays from leaving. "We're beginning to ask ourselves, 'Is there a solution to this?' " Rogel said.


msasso@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7865 Twitter: @msasso

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