Friday, November 17, 2017

Daniel Ruth: Rays stadium in Oldsmar is not so off-the-wall


Might itty-bitty Oldsmar be the little town that could?

Recently Mayor Doug Bevis floated the notion his fair hamlet just might be the prime location for a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays to call home. And no doubt the idea likely created great guffaws and sneers from all manner of swells. How dare such a modest community of about 14,000 residents have the impertinence to include itself in the cross Tampa Bay competition to become the host of a Major League Baseball franchise?

It is certainly true with so much money at stake and so many political big shots and captains of commerce on both sides of the bay plotting to win the stadium war, the likelihood of Oldsmar actually succeeding in its pursuit of the Rays is probably about the same as Donald Trump being named president of the National Organization for Women.

Still, it never hurts to dream. And let us not forget Oldsmar is named after the auto magnate Ransom Eli Olds, who purchased nearly 38,000 acres of Upper Tampa Bay property in 1916 thinking it might turn into a pretty good investment. You have to admit the man thought big.

And a bit of that Olds vision seems to have trickled down to Bevis, who, if everyone will stop laughing, actually makes a reasonable case for why his city at least ought to be in the conversation over the Rays' future.

To be sure there are very strong arguments for either keeping the team in the heart of St. Petersburg, or perhaps relocating somewhere between downtown Tampa and the Westshore area. Both locales have growing densities of populations. Both are accessible off of I-275. Fair enough.

What does Oldsmar offer? Last April, Bevis told the Tampa Bay Times his city has about 120 acres of undeveloped land currently owned by Tampa Bay Downs just west of Race Track Road.

As well, Oldsmar literally sits on the border between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, representing, symbolically at least, the case for closer regional cooperation across Tampa Bay. That proximity could also mean the burden of building a new stadium estimated to be at least $500 million might get funding help from both counties. Bevis' off-the-wall idea isn't looking so crazy right now after all, is it?

Especially during election seasons, rightly or wrongly the case is often made that when it comes to economic revitalization, the residents of northern Pinellas feel shortchanged as if they were the red-headed stepchild being fed crumbs after the political and business elites of St. Petersburg have had their fill at the trough.

Indeed one of the many reasons a transportation referendum that would have begun the early stages of Pinellas mass transit system imploded miserably in 2015 is that the effort failed to address the creation of any light rail routes into the northern regions of the county.

And Bevis has managed to accomplish one thing his counterparts in Tampa and St. Petersburg have not. The mayor has enlisted the help of Francisco Semsch, president of FSA Architecture/Construction to create a rendering of a new Oldsmar Rays stadium at no cost to the city.

The process of relocating the Rays is still in its earliest stages. Over the coming months all manner of deep-pocketed investors and influential public figures will be making elaborate pitches to the team. This is, after all, a very big deal.

But in the end, the honorable Mayor Doug Bevis, who presides over the tiny sliver of Oldsmar, at the very least deserves a fair hearing from the Rays. After dropping 94 games this season before crowds measuring into the dozens, what does the team have to lose?

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