St. Pete mayor makes pitch to keep Rays

- St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman made his pitch to Rays executive Wednesday, hoping his meeting is a step toward keeping the team at Tropicana Field.

The proposal includes building a new stadium and redeveloping the 86 acres around the Trop into a retail, business, research and hotel complex.

"There aren't a whole lot of sites in Tampa Bay where you can find 86 acres of contiguous property that are publicly owned and that have the opportunity to be redeveloped and provide funding from the redevelopment to help fund a new stadium," Kriseman told reporters after the meeting.

The presentation, which is the next step in the "Baseball Forever-St. Pete" campaign, also included recorded testimonials and letters of support from business leaders.

Mayor Kriseman and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce have been working on the proposal for about a year.

"We went in very confident because the product we have, so to speak, which is that site is a really good product," Kriseman said.

Following his meeting the Rays leadership, the mayor and city leaders stopped at Ferg's sports bar to explain their vision to fans.

Ferg's owner, Mark Ferguson, isn't sugarcoating how much he has riding on the city convincing the Rays to stay in St. Pete.

"A lot. I really believe in my heart that the Rays want to stay in Pinellas County," he said. "They are worth 200 to 300 million dollars to Pinellas County every year as an impact. They pour more people in Pinellas County than anybody else and they bring tourists in all summer long for us."

The Rays have been looking at potential stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. They can opt out of their current stadium deal in three years, but would have to pay the city as much as $30 million.

Ferguson said he's beginning to feel just as confident as the mayor about St. Petersburg's chances of keeping the Rays.

"I feel every day that passes by it's better for Pinellas County, it's better for Rays fans because they've been here 20 years. They're not going to up an leave in five years and go anywhere else," he said. "They're going to stay in this Tampa Bay area and every day that goes by, that Trop site becomes more valuable."

Kriseman's presentation, which is laid out on www.baseballforever.com, didn't include any specifics about how the city would pay for a new stadium; he said he wouldn't begin discussing that until he received a commitment from the Rays.

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