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The Rays are staying in St. Petersburg. Who are the winners and losers?

The team’s potential stadium deal would end years of negotiations — and could change more than a few legacies.
 
The city of St. Petersburg will continue to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in town under a new stadium deal, according to the team.
The city of St. Petersburg will continue to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in town under a new stadium deal, according to the team. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Sept. 18, 2023|Updated Sept. 22, 2023

It was news years, if not decades, in the making: The Tampa Bay Rays could be staying in St. Petersburg.

The team is expected to announce a deal to build a new stadium on the city’s 86-acre Tropicana Field site, partnering with the city, Pinellas County and outside investors on a potentially $1.2 billion park in 2028. It would be the centerpiece of a $4 billion partnership with global real estate development firm Hines; other components include office space, hotels, a conference center, a museum and music hall, and a park and promenade fronting Brooker Creek.

Civic, political and team leaders have spent years trying to get a deal like this done. There is a lot more we don’t know about what this deal will look like. With a more official announcement planned for Tuesday, here’s a look at some of the early winners and losers of the deal.

Winner: Ken Welch

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, left, speaks with Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg just prior to the Rays game against the Detroit Tigers Thursday, March 30, 2023 in St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, left, speaks with Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg just prior to the Rays game against the Detroit Tigers Thursday, March 30, 2023 in St. Petersburg. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

For the longest time, the Rays have had a tepid, if not outright testy, relationship with St. Petersburg’s mayors. Less than two years into his term, Welch has seemingly changed all that. Welch scrapped the top plans favored by his predecessor Rick Kriseman in June 2022, reopening the city’s request for proposals and choosing his own preferred plan in January. It was a potentially legacy-shaping gamble, but one that — if the Rays plan holds, and Welch doesn’t sacrifice other aspects of the plan, such as affordable housing — appears to have paid off.

Loser: Rick Kriseman

Mayor Rick Kriseman speaks ahead of the raising of a Pride flag to celebrate Pride month outside St. Petersburg City Hall on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Kriseman addressed his opposition to a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed  banning transgender females from participating in scholastic womenÕs and girlÕs sports.
Mayor Rick Kriseman speaks ahead of the raising of a Pride flag to celebrate Pride month outside St. Petersburg City Hall on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Kriseman addressed his opposition to a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed banning transgender females from participating in scholastic womenÕs and girlÕs sports. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Kriseman isn’t the only St. Petersburg mayor who could be slotted here — multiple administrations have failed to secure a long-term home for the Rays in the city. But it is Kriseman who led the city through the initial request for proposals for the Trop site, and Kriseman whose preferred plan was later tossed aside by Welch.

Winner: Stuart Sternberg

Stu Sternberg, seen here in 2019.
Stu Sternberg, seen here in 2019.

While the Rays’ owner has entertained ideas that would move the team outside St. Petersburg, including a plan that would see the Rays split seasons between Tampa and Montreal, he’s said all along his preference would be to keep the team in St. Petersburg. To do so, he may need to sell part of his majority ownership stake in the team in order to finance the Rays’ $600 million or so commitment to the stadium project. But if those outside investors, the city and county end up paying for a majority of the deal, it’s a trade he seems willing to make. (And oh, by the way, the Rays on Sunday just clinched their fifth straight playoff berth.)

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Jury’s still out: Darryl Shaw

Ybor City developer Darryl Shaw prepares to discuss "the opportunity to dream" in bringing a new professional women's soccer team to Tampa during a press conference where Shaw confirmed plans to bring a USL Super League (USLS) Division I professional women's soccer team to Tampa on Friday, May 19, 2023, at Hotel Haya in Ybor City.
Ybor City developer Darryl Shaw prepares to discuss "the opportunity to dream" in bringing a new professional women's soccer team to Tampa during a press conference where Shaw confirmed plans to bring a USL Super League (USLS) Division I professional women's soccer team to Tampa on Friday, May 19, 2023, at Hotel Haya in Ybor City. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The veterinary entrepreneur turned Ybor City investor’s real estate plans have never hinged on the Rays moving to Tampa. And in fact, in recent weeks, his team has turned its focus toward bringing a professional women’s soccer team and soccer stadium to a site outside Ybor. In the long run, that investment and other mixed-use plans for Shaw’s properties may pay off better than a baseball stadium. But the Rays’ new commitment to St. Petersburg officially squashes any dreams he might still be harboring of luring a major league team to Ybor City. “The goal has always been to keep baseball in Tampa Bay,” Shaw said Monday. “I’m thrilled our region will be home to the Rays for the next generation.”

Winners: St. Petersburg businesses and investors

All along, the Greater St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce’s official position has been that they just want to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay, even if it meant seeing them off to Tampa. Now they’ll get to keep the team in town, and nearby businesses may continue to see game-day benefits. Along those lines, a number of developers have invested heavily in areas in and around the Tropicana field site, from hotels and office space in the EDGE District to property owners in historically Black neighborhoods on the city’s south side. The Rays/Hines plan calls for some affordable and workforce housing outside the Trop site, which would expand the development possibilities beyond downtown St. Petersburg.

Losers: Nashville, Portland, Charlotte, Las Vegas and Montreal

Any time a new stadium is up for discussion, so is relocation. With the Rays staying in St. Petersburg, any city that had hopes of luring a major league team will have to shift its focus elsewhere. What are the Oakland A’s up to these days?

Jury’s still out: Barry Burton

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton mingles with guests at the Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court Clearwater Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Clearwater.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton mingles with guests at the Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court Clearwater Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Clearwater. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

The Pinellas County administrator managed to keep a tight lid on negotiations between the county, city and team these last eight months, which in and of itself is a win. But until we know how much of the county’s tourist tax receipts Pinellas is putting toward the project, it’s too early to judge Burton’s role. If the county ends up paying more than expected — at the expense of other potentially tourism-funded projects, like a possible expansion of the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training complex in Clearwater — those other groups might have fresh criticism for Burton.

Loser: Ken Hagan

District 2 Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan speaks during the Board of County Commissioners investiture ceremony at the Hillsborough County Center in Tampa on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.
District 2 Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan speaks during the Board of County Commissioners investiture ceremony at the Hillsborough County Center in Tampa on Tuesday, November 22, 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Arguably no other public official has pushed harder over the years to bring baseball across the bay. The Hillsborough County commissioner is a longtime pro sports champion, and losing the best, and probably last, chance to bring the Rays into the same jurisdiction as the Buccaneers and Lightning is a tough, if not entirely unexpected, blow. “By remaining in St. Pete, the team is willing to forgo significantly additional revenue in Tampa for more upfront money (from Pinellas),” Hagan said.

Jury’s still out: Jane Castor

Mayor Jane Castor speaks during a press conference regarding a city mobility plan at David M Barksdale Center in Tampa on Tuesday, July 18, 2023.
Mayor Jane Castor speaks during a press conference regarding a city mobility plan at David M Barksdale Center in Tampa on Tuesday, July 18, 2023. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Is Tampa’s mayor a loser here, as it seems the city is officially out of the running for Major League Baseball? Or is she a winner for managing to avoid getting into what would surely be a logistically complex, politically fraught and very expensive project? Castor has always said her goal was to keep the team in the region, so she may secretly see this as a win. We’ll have to see how the next five years play out.

Winners: Tampa Bay baseball fans

The ultimate winners, of course, as this means Tampa Bay will keep its third major pro sports team in town and on local television. We’ll just have to see if a new stadium will get more of them to show up to games. If nothing else, a new stadium all but guarantees St. Petersburg will, most likely sometime in the next decade, host its first Major League Baseball All-Star Game — one of the few major sporting events Tampa Bay has yet to host.

Times staff writers C.T. Bowen and Sue Carlton contributed to this story.