New Rays stadium? POWW!

Hal Freedman is leading the fight

Who? Hal Freedman, founder of Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront (POWW), a political action committee opposing the Tampa Bay Rays' proposal to build a new stadium in downtown St. Pete.

Sphere of influence: Freedman, 65, was already active in the Snell Isle Homeowners Association (where he used to live) and several art venues (American Stage, [email protected]) before the stadium issue arose. Through POWW, the Bayfront Towers resident has organized several hundred residents who oppose the Rays' proposal. The POWW steering committee includes Steve Lang and Peter Belmont, who were leaders on both sides of the Albert Whitted Airport controversy; former councilwoman and mayoral candidate, Kathleen Ford; and longtime environmental activist Bill Stokes.

How he makes a difference: POWW already reaches several hundred folks, disseminating information through its website and e-mail blasts. Freedman says POWW's efforts have forced the Rays' executives to be more forthcoming about their proposal. And, through the PAC, Freedman's work could decide the public's final opinion on the project.

CL: When did you first hear about the Rays' proposal?

Freedman: Along with everybody else — the end of November. It just started getting me angry, and that's what got me involved. More than the NIMBY aspect — and there is that aspect — it's really out of scale of where they want to put it. The fact that the process appeared to be abused. The more I got involved in the process, the more I realized how abusive the city administration had been. ... Just in my letter-writing, networking and e-mail with friends, all of a sudden I found myself in contact with a whole group of really high brain-powered individuals. I suddenly found myself as founder of this group and suddenly herding all these cats, who were just very bright, high-powered individuals.

What do you think is the most egregious part of the proposal?

I would say, particularly in this economy, trying to squeeze $500 million out of the taxpayers with our land and our money one way or another. I don't care if it's TIFF funds we wouldn't have had anyway; they could be used for other things. They could be used for the $50 million that we obligated to fix the pier, some more money for the Mahaffey, and I think even road repairs and construction. I'd say that's the worst part of it. And in this economy, when they just cut 42 million out of the state budget, half of which is coming out of education, I think that just stinks. It doesn't make any sense. None of it does.

Hal, don't you like baseball?

Actually when I was growing up, I loved baseball. I used to cut school — you know, we had the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Giants — and we would go and hang out outside afterwards for autographs. You didn't have to pay 10 bucks for them. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Phil Rizzuto — those guys were all loyal to their teams so you could root for a team, you could root for players.

Baseball has changed. Baseball now is a bunch of spoiled brats. It's people who are paid too much. ... I'm also beginning to realize that it's an incredible business for the owners. Not so much for the ones who buy and want to keep it and love it, but the owners, that I feel [the Rays] might be, who are investors. They've made money with other people's money, and they've always done that. They're looking at it as an asset to increase the value of and then sell.

What about the other members of POWW?

There are several who are Rays fans that go to several Rays games a year. I don't know if we have any season ticket holders in the group, but I bet there are a couple or three that go to 15 to 20 games a year. They love the Trop.

What would POWW like to happen to Al Lang Field?

It's not a 100 percent consensus. We have environmentalists that would like nothing but to see all 12 acres into a park. There are others who feel that there is history in Al Lang and that it should remain a baseball park.

Is this a NIMBY problem with you?

I'd say 25 percent. I'm concerned about having some 20- to 30-story structure on the waterfront. It would be bigger than anything down here, including our building [Bayfront Towers]. From that standpoint, I think it's out of scale. I think the use is wrong. I think of noise, lights and having 12,000 to 15,000 cars downtown. That's two abreast from here to the Tampa Airport. So, yeah, that's from the NIMBY standpoint. I live downtown, and it's going to ruin downtown.

Many critics of the proposal feel like this is a done deal. Do you think so?

I think there's a chance to stop it, or we wouldn't be killing ourselves. I wouldn't be up until 2 a.m. answering e-mails and dealing with this thing. It concerns me so many people think it's a done deal, and other people think it can't happen. Both of those groups I'm concerned either won't vote or won't hear the messages on both sides so they can make an informed decision.

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