TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Despite money woes that have lawmakers scrambling to pay for state programs, Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday that he thinks the state should try to figure out a way to help the Tampa Bay Rays build a new waterfront ballpark in St. Petersburg.
The Rays earlier this month announced plans for a $450 million, open-air downtown stadium but it's not clear how it might be paid for.
Crist, who grew up in and lived much of his life in St. Petersburg, said he loves the idea and has pledged to the baseball team that he will do what he can to help, leaving open the possibility of supporting a move to put state tax dollars into the mix. Crist also has backed state financing for a new stadium for the Florida Marlins.
``Where they're playing now is fine and has served them well, but I think the opportunity to create an ambiance right on the waterfront in St. Petersburg is brilliant,'' said Crist, a Republican.
Rays President Matt Silverman said the team was ``very pleased to have his (Crist) support.''
Crist acknowledged the state's money problems must be considered before finding money for a new ballpark. Forecasts for incoming state tax dollars have been bleak and lawmakers this year had to cut the state budget.
``We have to see what it looks like - what the (state's revenue) forecast is - but I should say this too: I view as a significant part of economic development what sports does for Florida,'' he said. ``It provides jobs, jobs, jobs for a lot of people.''
Crist, who once worked for Major League Baseball in the minor league office, earlier this year went to New York to meet with baseball officials and pledge the state's support for its teams. He also is planning to host a dinner next year for baseball commissioner Bud Selig, front office staff and players as a way of showing the league the state appreciates its presence in Florida.
The Rays envision a 35,000-seat stadium on the current site of Al Lang Field, the longtime spring training facility the Rays are leaving next year. The team would like to see a new park in use as early as 2012. Preliminary plans call for the new stadium to be open, but covered with sail-like material on a cabling system when it rains.
Currently, the Rays play in Tropicana Field, which has a roof.

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