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After years of uncertainty, Tampa Bay Rays settle on stadium site

The Tampa Bay Rays are expected to announce the details of new — reportedly $1.2 billion — stadium Tuesday morning.


  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 7:00 p.m. September 18, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
A rendering of how the Hines/Rays teams would redevelop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site in downtown St. Petersburg.
A rendering of how the Hines/Rays teams would redevelop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site in downtown St. Petersburg.
File rendering
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The Tampa Bay Rays are expected to announce the details of a new stadium that will keep the team in St. Petersburg for decades at a Tuesday morning news conference at its current home, Tropicana Field.

The team is planning to announce that a new stadium will be built on the site of the Historic Gas Plant District, a move likely to put to an end years of jockeying between officials from both sides of Tampa Bay — and as far north as Montreal — and solidifying St. Petersburg as the team's long-term, if not permanent, home.

It also could end threats, not always taken seriously by fans but deadly serious, that the Rays would have had to move out of the state altogether if a new stadium was not built.

According to The Athletic, a prominent sports website owned by The New York Times, the new stadium will have a nonretractable dome and seat about 30,000 people. It will open in 2028, months after the Ray’s lease on Tropicana Field expires at the end of the 2027 season.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says the cost will top $1.2 billion and be paid for by the team, the city and Pinellas County.

Details on how the cost will be divided and other details should be addressed at the news conference.

If it seems like déjà vu to you, that’s because it is.

In 2018, the team announced plans for an $892 million stadium to be built in Ybor City with similar fanfare. The plan, however, failed during negotiations with the city and Hillsborough County. At that time, with the Rays facing a looming deadline to inform St. Petersburg about its future in the city, the team blamed a lack of progress on talks, a sentiment echoed by MLB, which said the proposal lacked specifics.

The team then flirted with splitting its seasons between Tampa or St. Petersburg and Montreal, with a smaller stadium in each city. The plan, as outlandish as it may have seemed, was on its way to becoming a reality when MLB’s executive committee nixed it Jan. 20, 2022, leaving backers disappointed on both sides of the border and Ray’s ownership seriously wondering if the team had a future here.

These are just two examples of other failed plans over many years to build a new baseball stadium at various places in the region.

This happened as the team thrived on the field, becoming a perennial contender, while attendance at Tropicana Field continued to be among the worst in all of baseball — an embarrassment for fans who cared and a great disappointment to ownership.

The prospects for the Rays finally settling in St. Petersburg improved in January when Mayor Ken Welch chose the team and its development partner Hines to lead the redevelopment of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site in the city’s downtown Historic Gas Plant District. The district, which is where Welch grew up, was once a thriving Black community that was razed to make way for Tropicana Field.

Despite the city picking the Rays and its partners, the team continued to look at its options including building a stadium in Tampa or potentially relocating.

While many of the dynamics that led to poor attendance, chief among them accessibility, will remain, being in the district, and a part of the development group, gives the Ray’s an advantage allowing ownership to build economic base that can sustain the high cost of running a baseball team.

But, as there always is, there are details that will likely to be worked out and fine print that will have to be read as well as interpreted. Then there will be the matter of winning the public’s support and the support of local politicians.

Of course, it is possible that all that has already been worked out and there will be a unified front at Tuesday’s new conference.

For now, with a deal for a new stadium seemingly in place, the feeling for many Rays’ fans as the playoffs approach has to be one of excitement. But given the long and tortured history, many won’t sigh with relief until the first pitch is thrown at a new ballpark.

 

author

Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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