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Rays' owner sees good in Hillsborough's money pledge to upgrade Yankees' spring training facility

Stu Sternberg talks about competition in the Tampa Bay area.
Stu Sternberg talks about competition in the Tampa Bay area.
Published Apr. 25, 2016

NEW YORK — Even though his team may be seeking funding for a new stadium in Tampa, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said he saw good in Hillsborough County's recent decision to spend $26 million of public money to upgrade the Yankees' spring training facility.

"Any money going toward baseball in Florida is fine by me," Sternberg said before Sunday's game. "It's about the sport. It's good for the sport. It shows that Hillsborough is committed to and sees the value of baseball in their midst."

The planned renovation of Steinbrenner Field will cost $40 million, with Hillsborough County committing more than $13 million in tourism tax dollars and a matching amount coming from the state.

Sternberg said he wasn't concerned that it was money that could be put toward a new Rays stadium.

"I think it's natural to see it that way," Sternberg said. "My approach to things is I'd be more concerned if all the municipalities chose not to want spring training in their midst and not to want teams, because they don't really see the value to their constituents for baseball.

"So if people believe in the value of baseball, it's great because we're major-league baseball — regular season, postseason. If they spend $200 million in Tampa, that means they could see the idea of regular baseball even more."

The deal extends the Yankees' spring training lease in Tampa through 2046, but Sternberg said that won't have an impact on the Rays' search for a new site.

He did acknowledge there is a direct impact on their business having several teams training in the Tampa Bay area. In addition to the Yankees, the Phillies are in Clearwater, the Blue Jays in Dunedin, the Tigers in Lakeland and the Pirates in Bradenton.

"They're there," he said. "In a straight-up fashion, it is a dramatic impact on us, and it's not positive that we have so many spring training teams in our midst. It has some positive benefits in that we get Blue Jay fans coming to some games, we get Tiger fans coming to some games.

"But to have all those teams around us, it does create a problem in selling tickets and sponsorships, but they're there. We just have to live with it and make the best of it and use it as a positive."

Sternberg said there was no update on the team's search for a new site in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, but "it's progressing." He said he wasn't yet familiar with the details of the St. Petersburg City Council's choice of a firm to provide a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Ray.

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