06/25/08 4:17 PM ET
Rays won't seek ballpark referendum
Will work with local coalition on long-term commitment to team
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Wednesday afternoon the Rays made the announcement of the organization's decision in conjunction with the news that, with the support of officials from the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, a coalition of community leaders will be formed to study ways to ensure community support for a long-term commitment to the Rays and Major League Baseball.
This new group, to be chaired by Progress Energy President Jeff Lyash, will now take the lead in studying and reporting back to the community on a wide array of issues related to this goal.
"This is a very important milestone for the Rays, St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and the surrounding area," said Stuart Sternberg, Rays principal owner. "This coalition and the actions it will take in the coming months will play a pivotal role in securing a stable and successful future for the ballclub."
Matt Silverman, Rays president, said the organization is excited that the business and political leadership of this community "have embraced the Rays and our efforts to make this an organization we can all take pride in."
"The Rays are committed to working in concert with this community group to help ensure our future here," Silverman said.
In announcing the decision not to seek a November referendum, the Rays praised the recent public dialogue regarding the waterfront ballpark. While the Rays organization maintains its belief in the benefits and transformational promise of the ballpark initiative launched last November, the Rays recognize that the efforts will be better served by withdrawing its request for a referendum in favor of a broad-based effort led by the community itself.
Area political leaders who came together for today's announcement supported the Rays decision and the formation of the new group.
"The City worked hard to secure Major League Baseball, and the Rays are very important to our community," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said. "This coalition will help determine how to enhance community support for the Rays and navigate how we move forward on a possible new stadium and the long-term success of baseball here. We came together as a community more than 20 years ago to help make baseball a reality here -- it is time we upped our game to show we're committed to professional baseball well into the future."
"There has always been a need for this to be a community-wide effort," County Commissioner Kenneth Welch said. "The Rays started this discussion and got us this far, but it is now time for the community to assume leadership of these efforts."
Lyash, who is now responsible for directing the stadium effort, echoed those sentiments.
"It is important to engage the entire community to rally support for the Rays and ensure their future in our community," Lyash said. "I look forward to leading this collaborative effort that will enable the Rays to succeed and our entire community to prosper."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.