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Tampa business chambers endorse Rays’ split-city Montreal plan

Three groups led by the Tampa Bay Chamber are formally backing a new stadium for the Rays and the Rowdies.
The Tampa Bay Rays have explored Ybor City sites like this one as a possible home for a new stadium. The Tampa Bay Chamber, South Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber have endorsed the team's proposal to play half its games in a new stadium and half in Montreal.
The Tampa Bay Rays have explored Ybor City sites like this one as a possible home for a new stadium. The Tampa Bay Chamber, South Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber have endorsed the team's proposal to play half its games in a new stadium and half in Montreal. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 18
Updated Nov. 18

Three prominent Tampa business groups have stepped forward to support the Tampa Bay Rays’ proposal to split upcoming seasons between stadiums in Tampa Bay and Montreal.

The Tampa Bay Chamber, South Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber said in a joint announcement Thursday that they supported the idea of a new outdoor ballpark “in the region” that would host the Rays for part of each season — as well as full Tampa Bay Rowdies seasons — describing it as “a viable concept to ensure that baseball remains and thrives in this community for years to come.”

“Tampa Bay’s rich history has been and remains to be influenced by the game of baseball,” the groups stated. “The Chambers recognize this connection and will continue to support efforts to maintain this rich heritage.”

All three organizations are based in Tampa, although the LGBT Chamber represents businesses across seven local counties, including Pinellas.

Bob Rohrlack, the Tampa Bay Chamber president and CEO, said the groups asked other local chambers and business groups to sign onto the endorsement, but some still wanted more details about how the plan would work. The chambers moved ahead with the endorsement anyway in order to get it out while baseball’s owners are meeting this week, just so Major League Baseball and owners knew the Rays’ plan had support from the local business community.

“I think it just shows that we see the Rays as a regional asset and a key commerce driver that we all want to be working together to keep in the region,” Rohrlack said.

It’s not the first time Tampa Bay business leaders have joined forces to try to keep the team in the region. In 2018, a group called the Rays 100 converged to drum up support for a new stadium in Tampa, potentially in Ybor City. That group’s efforts drew support from four Hillsborough chambers of commerce, including the South Tampa Chamber.

“When they zeroed in on Ybor the last time, we modified our position from, ‘Stay in Tampa Bay’ to ‘We endorse Ybor,’ and then when they stepped back from that at the time, we said, ‘Okay, we just want you to stay in Tampa Bay,’” Rohrlack said. “No matter where they’re located, it impacts all of Tampa Bay.”

Related: The Rays, the mayor and Montreal: St. Petersburg's stadium drama, explained

Speaking at a recent luncheon for the Tiger Bay Club, a local civic group, Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld reiterated that a new stadium and split season with Montreal were Tampa Bay’s best chance at keeping a team in the region.

Lately, talk of a new stadium has centered on property owned by veterinary entrepreneur and Ybor City real estate investor Darryl Shaw, including the former headquarters of staffing and professional services firm Kforce. City leaders have expressed optimism that such a plan could work, even approaching the state about financial assistance.

Related: Romano: The Rays' flirtation with Montreal could become a true romance this week

Across the bay, closer to Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg business leaders, including the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, have supported the Montreal proposal since early 2020.

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“I’m glad that Tampa’s finally backing the plan,” said St. Petersburg Chamber president and CEO Chris Steinocher. “For us, while everybody would love a full season, it was made clear to us over a year ago ... that this is what’s going to have to happen.”

Steinocher and others in May penned a letter to Mayor Rick Kriseman urging the city to continue talks with the Rays on a plan to keep the team in the city.

“In order to focus on forward progress, we feel confident that the city and county should continue to pursue discussions and actions to keep our hometown team in St. Pete,” the leaders wrote. “This is where they belong.”