TAMPA - The aging, empty dog track in Sulphur Springs has long been a symbol of the blight and struggle of the historic Hillsborough County community. And while the track may never reopen, a possible replacement could be a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays. At least that's what Commissioner Victor Crist envisions.
"When you look at the Sulphur Springs area, you have the river, you have the oak trees, you have the historic springs, you've got the tower," Crist said. "That spells out the wonder of Hillsborough and Tampa."
The concept involves demolishing the dog track and moving the existing poker club. Crist said the location would be more practical than a downtown venue, because it has better access points.
"The infrastructure of the interstate highways and the rail system where you wouldn't have to pay for that," Crist said. "Downtown you don't have the capacity when you have an event at one of our venues there," he said.
In addition, Crist said the economic benefit would be better overall than a downtown location because of taxes. Crist said downtown real estate is expensive, and eliminating valuable taxable land and replacing it with a stadium hurts revenue. Instead, building a facility on cheap land in a blighted area would help turn around the surrounding neighborhoods.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn disagrees, and said while he appreciates Crist's interest in restoring economically challenged areas, he doesn't believe Major League Baseball would approve of the location.
"If you look at the model for baseball over the last decade it has been urban stadiums in the downtown core," Buckhorn said.
The mayor said he believes downtown Tampa's residential community is growing, and drawing on the hustle and bustle of the city is what the league wants in a stadium location.
"You want a pedestrian experience. You want people to be able to leave their towers at five o'clock and walk down, have a drink, have a dinner and go to a game," Buckhorn said.
Crist said Tampa's downtown is still decidedly barren when compared to an established neighborhood.
"The walkability in the Sulphur Springs site is greater. There are more people who live closer to that stadium location," Crist said.
Some residents living in Sulphur Springs were enthusiastic about the possibility of a new stadium.
"Definitely. I think it's a good idea," said Karen Jeter. "It would give a lot of job opportunities," Jeter said.
Gloria Davidson has lived in Sulphur Springs for seven years, and said it's been a long time coming for positive economic news in the community. Having the Tampa Bay Rays in town would be a windfall, she said.
"Everything now is in St. Pete. Give us a chance to get some of this money here in our community," Davidson said.
Chris Trenkmann can be reached at email@example.com
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