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Feeding frenzy begins on siting potential Rays ballpark

Tampa Bay RaysThe Tampa Bay Rays haven’t even received permission to explore new-ballpark sites in the region, but some Hillsborough County officials are pushing alternative sites to a downtown Tampa location.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist is already pushing a new ballpark at the former Tampa Greyhound Track site off I-275, which could also include a new football stadium for the University of South Florida. There are a lot of issues with that site — there’s precious little opportunity for associated economic development, and the city would lose proceeds from a downtown TIF for the project. Of course, the site has one huge advantage: it’s located in Crist’s district. And, politically, there’s no downside in Crist’s attempt to bring home some development for his district.

This will be an interesting philosophical discussion. On the one hand, the most successful new ballparks in the last 20 years have been downtown ballparks (Coors Field, PNC Park, Target Field, Oriole Park) or ballparks located in densely populated areas (Yankee Stadium). And, indeed, the talk from Tampa officials has been locating a new ballpark in downtown Tampa.

Other officials are going to argue that Tampa-St. Pete is unlike other markets, that the population won’t come to a downtown ballpark and would prefer to drop by a ballpark with lots of parking and easy freeway access. (That’s always the argument.) But history has not shown this to be the case: heck, by that criteria, Tropicana Field should be a runaway success.

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