Thursday, July 16, 2009

What will happen to local St. Pete business if no Rays?

I am watching with some trepidation the "academic" meetings happening about the Tampa Bay Rays and where they should play.

Yes, I know worrying about it now is probably a bit premature, since the Rays do have a contract with the city of St. Petersburg through 2027, but I have also been around the block enough times to know that nothing is ever set in stone.

Besides the fact that the Trop is a landmark, we have come to love seeing our Rays in St. Pete. So why now after all these years is St. Pete not a suitable home anymore for the team? The group "A Baseball Community" or ABC Coalition is studying all of this and has announced that the Trop is too remote a location for most baseballs fans to get to with any convenience.

For whom?? I live a county away and still drive in to St. Pete to see the Tampa Bay Rays. And almost half of the season ticket holders live in Pinellas. If the Trop were any closer to the interstate it would have its own lane.

The ABC Coalition in their "academic" discussions are kicking around several other locations. Most of them are in Tampa: downtown, the Westshore area and the fairgrounds. Another Pinellas spot, Carillon, is also being looked at.

I will be in a snit if I have to go into Hillsborough County. I know I won't be the only one.
But all of that notwithstanding, my real concern is for our small local businesses that call downtown St. Pete home, and rely on that economic boost the at-home Rays games provide. In these anorexic financial times, our local businesses have really felt the pinch. Any more blows from the money axe and we may see more storefronts closing.

The small business community is having to rely on loans and credit to get by in lieu of consumer spending. The walk-in traffic from the baseball games is a welcome relief. If we move the Rays, that well may dry up. Who knows? Our local businesses are not silent partners in this.

There is far more for our economic development leaders to consider here than just who wants to drive where. If you build it, they will come. Well, it's already here. Can't we just keep it?