Rays ownership and community leaders unveiled their vision for moving the team to a new home across the bay in Ybor City during a press conference on Friday.
YBOR CITY — Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is making it his “sole focus” to get the team out of St. Petersburg and into a new stadium in historic Ybor City.
He wasn’t sure when it would happen, how it would be paid for and by whom, and whether the aging infrastructure of the historic district could even support a Major League stadium. What he did say was that move was needed if the team hopes to survive in the greater Tampa Bay area in the long term.
“Ybor City, as has been said, is authentically Tampa Bay,” Sternberg said. “It is a place with soul, with grit and with a rich, rich baseball history.”
Sternberg, Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, County commissioner Ken Hagan and community business leaders Chuck Sykes and Ron Christaldi gathered in the childhood home of Hall of Fame catcher Al Lopez, now the Tampa baseball Museum, to announce that a new organization had been formed to make it a reality. Tampa Bay Rays 2020 is a privately-funded, non-profit entity dedicated to moving the process forward, including gathering support from local and regional businesses.
“This is a unique and rare opportunity to build a ballpark that will be a wonderful community asset for years to come,” Sykes said. “Support from our business community is vital.”
The First Step of Many
The proposed site of the new ballpark will be adjacent to the Port of Tampa and Channelside districts and within walking distance to the entertainment district of 7th Avenue in Ybor City. The site consists of lots that are currently vacant and industrial buildings. No residential buildings would be displaced.
Discussions or purchasing options on the property needed to build on have already begun but are not completed. At just over 14 acres, the overall complex would be one of the smaller venues in MLB but not unheard of for a downtown site. Parking may, however, be an issue, especially on bustling weekend games. Also, most of the roads around the proposed site are single-lane, one-way streets and may not be able to handle the influx of traffic. Although, the location is close to major highways like I-275 and I-4, those areas are notoriously known for snarled traffic jams, particularly during times that would also coincide with gates opening on night games or letting out
Infrastructure may be the least of the problems that the potential site might face. Finding a way to foot the bill could be a bigger hurdle, especially as teams have faced scrutiny for publicly-funded stadiums in recent years. Sternberg admitted that ownership would be responsible for some of the construction costs but would not say how much that would be.
Leadership said that it would rely heavily on a public-private partnership with commitments and support from local businesses to help defray the cost.
No countdown to opening day
While the newly formed organization may have 2020 in its name, that is by no means its target date.
The two sides are still at odds on paying for a stadium that will cost more than $700 million. Plans being floated include several options that might not sit well with taxpayers including CDC taxes and increases in property taxes around the stadium.
The Rays are also currently locked into a lease at Tropicana Field until 2027. The Rays organization would be on the hook to the City of St. Petersburg for $3 million per year should they break that lease before 2022. Even if all pieces fit together, an opening day in 2023 would be optimistic.
Not to mention such a move could alienate a large portion of their fanbase, one that the team is currently reliant on to fill its stadium in Pinellas for the next few years.
“There will be trials and tribulations. There will be drama,” Buckhorn said, pausing to acknowledge the hilarity of the statement. “But I will tell you this, in this community we don’t do drama for long periods of time.
“Our goal is to make this happen and if you think about how far we’ve come as a city…I could not think of a better point on that map than to build this stadium at this location.”
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