And so, some 30 years later, Tampa gets its second turn at bat.
Political and business leaders in Hillsborough County are taking another shot at becoming a Major League Baseball city after begrudgingly abandoning the effort when construction began on Tropicana Field across the bay in the 1980s.
The Tampa Bay Rays have given Tampa leaders their blessing — and presumably will give $250 million or so in funding — to build a neighborhood stadium on the edge of Ybor City.
The only thing missing is $550 million to $600 million in additional funds.
And that, of course, makes this far from a done deal.
Certainly, the stadium proposal has some points in its favor. Rays ownership and Major League Baseball like the idea of being in the geographic heart of Tampa Bay. And Tampa leaders love the idea of creating a connection between Ybor City and downtown.
But stadium projects usually begin as long shots, and very few are built without hysteria along the way. At this point, the Ybor idea is just one possible outcome for baseball in Tampa Bay.
Here, then, is a very unscientific breakdown of odds:
Ybor City: The land is assembled and the Rays are on board. Financing is the only impediment. Rays owner Stu Sternberg floated the idea of contributing $150 million to stadium costs, but that won’t cut it. Sternberg will be willing to increase the team’s share, but he’s going to have to be assured that revenues will justify the investment. That means business leaders and corporations need to commit to sponsorships and ticket deals. Even then, the city and county must figure out a creative financing plan. Chances of this happening: 36 percent.
Tropicana Field: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has long banked on the idea that the Rays would not get a stadium built in downtown Tampa and would return to the Tropicana site because of the availability of land and available funding streams in Pinellas. He may be right. The hard part would be convincing Sternberg that a new stadium could make a big enough difference in a site that has underperformed for decades. Chances of this happening: 17 percent.
Other sites in Tampa Bay: Theoretically, the Gateway area of St. Petersburg is still on the table, but hardly anyone considers it viable. The more interesting scenario is if St. Pete gets desperate enough to keep the Rays that the Al Lang Stadium site is revived. Or, even better, if the city finally realizes the Albert Whitted Airport is the worst use of waterfront property in America. Chances of this happening: 15 percent.
Wait until 2027: If the Rays don’t have a firm plan for a stadium in the next few years, they’ll likely wait for the use agreement at Tropicana Field to expire in 2027. When that happens, all bets are off. The team will be free to move anywhere in the country. Chances of this happening: 26 percent.
Break the lease: If attendance dips, and stadium talks go nowhere, there’s always the chance the Rays could try to bolt from Tropicana Field before 2027 and move elsewhere. Hard to believe, however, MLB would invite a lawsuit that could force the team to open its financial records. Chances of this happening: 6 percent.
There is one other variable that could completely change the dynamics. If stadium talks stall, and attendance remains stagnant, Sternberg could choose to sell the Rays.
If that happens, the chances of a new owner waiting until the stadium lease runs out would probably increase dramatically, and fans in Montreal would begin salivating.
Or, to put it another way, c’est la vie.