1. Despite the team’s outstanding track record of success on the field, the Tampa Bay Rays — whose lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg expires after the 2027 season — have endured multiple failed attempts to secure a new home over the past few years, starting with the 2018 debacle in Ybor City and culminating in the controversial “Sister City” split-season plan with Montreal that was quashed by Major League Baseball.
Thus, a new year once again arrives with little to no clarity about the Rays’ future in the Tampa Bay region, but an even greater sense of urgency given St. Pete’s desire to move ahead with redevelopment of the 86-acre Trop site. Four proposals for the property, including one from the Rays organization itself, were submitted in early December. But less than two weeks later, news broke that Populous, a Kansas City-based architecture firm, had submitted a design for a new stadium that would be built on waterfront property, just east of downtown Tampa, that prominent local developer Daryl Shaw is under contract to acquire.
“Our focus remains on ensuring that the Rays stay in Tampa Bay," Rays President Matt Silverman says in a statement about the Populous stadium proposal to the Business Observer. "We are working in earnest with leaders throughout the region to make that happen.”
So, will 2023 be the year that the Rays recommit to St. Pete, or will they move across the bay — or even further afield?
2. In baseball terms, the Rays’ stadium search is not in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, but you could make a case that the starter’s pitch count (the Trop lease) is high, runners (the four groups who want to redevelop the Trop site) are on base in scoring position and the manager (the Rays’ front office) has phoned the bullpen to get relievers (cities such as Charlotte, North Carolina; Las Vegas; Nashville; and Portland, Oregon, that could poach the team away) warmed up.
The Oakland Athletics, a team whose stadium situation is as dire as the Rays’, are eyeing a move to Vegas, which also lured the Oakland Raiders NFL team. That means the desert city is likely out of the running for the Rays, though rumors of a move to Nashville swirled around the team in 2021 when relations between the organization and former St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman hit a new low.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is more optimistic about the Rays remaining in their market than the A’s. But in a late October interview with SiriusXM radio, he seemed to prefer Tampa over St. Pete for the team’s new home, saying a “properly located facility” would make Tampa a “viable major-league market.” He also expressed faith in Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg, who faced intense criticism because of his dalliance with Montreal, saying, “I think they will find a place to get a ballpark built and I think baseball can thrive in Tampa.”
3. Ernie DuBose II of Sarasota-based DuCon Construction is part of the JMA Ventures/Sugar Hill Community Partners team that submitted a plan to redevelop the Trop site, and he told the Business Observer that “figuring out what the Rays want” is a big challenge for the municipalities that want to be the team’s home. The organization has a reputation for being inscrutable and unsentimental and doing things its own way, for better or worse.
“We believe we are ready to partner with the Rays, team with the Rays, negotiate with the Rays. “I’m a Rays fan — I’m a hometown guy — and the Rays are a big focus; however, we have to keep in the forefront of our minds that yes, baseball is great and the Rays are great, but what is this really about? It’s about the people of St. Pete — those who like baseball and those who don’t. That is the key — keeping focused.”