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Rays president explains new podcast’s importance

Mark Parker

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Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld speaks at a recent community luncheon with the Historic Gas Plant development team. Photos: Davida Franklin / Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Bay Rays’ leadership realizes that soundbites and succinct news articles cannot adequately convey the complexities surrounding the Historic Gas Plant District’s history and its 20-year, $6.5 billion redevelopment.

Team president Brian Auld believes the project’s myriad stakeholders could glean exponentially more insight into the process by listening to experts in their respective fields. So, the Rays launched a unique podcast, Here to Stay, Wednesday (Jan. 10).

The podcast, hosted by play-by-play broadcaster Neil Solondz, will feature in-depth interviews and analysis from the people closest to the Gas Plant’s redevelopment and construction of a $1.3 billion ballpark near downtown St. Petersburg. New episodes will air weekly.

“If you’re willing to give 10 or 15 minutes to someone like Ms. Gwendolyn Reese to understand why she’s putting her reputation and thoughts into the process, it’ll help you understand a little bit about one of the facets we’re trying to accomplish here in the next couple of decades,” Auld told the Catalyst. “I’m sure at some point we’ll talk about what our ballpark will be like, and we’ll be soliciting ideas from fans and feedback …”

Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association, was Here to Stay’s first guest. She is also a consultant advising the Rays/Hines development team on the Gas Plant’s historical significance to St. Petersburg’s Black community.

Reese explained the importance of accurately sharing the site’s history from the eyes of people with lived experiences in the once-thriving neighborhood. She also noted that residents, whether willingly or unwillingly, relinquished their livelihoods under the guise of economic redevelopment – “and none of that happened.”

Reese said many Gas Plant descendants now feel vindication for their ancestors. “We’re talking about, specifically, equity in every area, every aspect of this redevelopment project,” she told Solondz.

“But this is more about our community, our city and how we move forward in today’s times,” Reese added. “It would be reflective or symbolic of our moving towards inclusivity, as opposed to exclusivity, which has been a major part of our history.”

Gwendolyn Reese, local historian, consultant and president of the African American Heritage Association, was the first guest on the Tampa Bay Rays’ new podcast.

Auld said Tim Nickens, a former journalist who spent 40 years with the Tampa Bay Times, would likely follow Reese on the podcast. Auld said Nickens will explain baseball’s importance to St. Petersburg and the events that preceded the current project.

Auld noted Nickens covered the city’s quest to land the then-Devil Rays and said he would provide critical context for new residents and anyone under 40. Senior leadership from Hines and design firm Populous will also discuss the project’s phases and what the development team ultimately hopes to accomplish.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if, down the road, we meet with some of our parking experts to talk about how we’re going to manage the largest construction project in North America,” Auld said.

He expects the podcast to run for at least a year and possibly throughout the two-decade project. Auld envisions it providing an outlet for the mayoral administration, city council members, nonprofit leaders, local arts and LGBTQ advocates and other community stakeholders to share their thoughts.

“So long as the focus is around this transformational and generational project,” he added. “There’s going to be plenty to talk about, and I think there’s going to be plenty of folks interested in listening to it.”

Auld called the podcast an open canvas and said Rays officials would explore featuring high-profile season-ticket holders, such as broadcasting legend Dick Vitale. He said the team would solicit fan and stakeholder feedback through its website and social media channels.

Auld believes that understanding the project’s history and goals will bolster support. He also realizes that some residents see the Rays and Hines as typical “big, scary companies” rather than easily accessible individuals ingrained in the community.

Auld also doubled down on the team’s local commitment. “Not just with this project, but the Rays’ future as a whole is completely tied to the City of St. Petersburg,” he said.

“If things are going well with the City of St. Petersburg, you can bet they’re going well for the Rays, and vice-versa. And the more we can show everybody that’s the case, the higher the likelihood of all of us being successful.”

To hear the podcast, visit the website here.

To offer feedback, visit the website here.

 

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    January 12, 2024at7:02 pm

    Sounds like an act of PR desperation.
    The potential deal with the city and the Rays is criticized by both the Left and the Right and the Rays know they’ve lost the support of St. Pete residents.

  2. Avatar

    HAL FREEDMAN

    January 12, 2024at5:20 pm

    None of that justifies having a publicly-subsidized stadium for a for-profit organization. The City would be far better off using that 22 acres as a revenue-producing (property taxed) parcel, selling the remaining 64 acres at market rate, and insisting on many more units of affordable housing, with REAL penalties for non-delivery of those units. This deal is far worse than the Moffitt deal the City foolishly rejected. The key concept here is prioritize!

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