YBOR CITY — With the coronavirus preventing the Tampa Bay Rays from putting bat to ball so far this year, discussion about the team’s plans for a new home have taken a back seat.
But the team still would like to play ball in Ybor City one day, according to developer Darryl Shaw.
The BluePearl Specialty & Emergency Pet Hospital co-founder owns most of a block that the Rays said was their preferred site for a Tampa ballpark. The team unveiled a design for a $892 million ballpark in 2018 before scrapping the idea after clashing with county officials over funding.
The Rays later announced a controversial plan to play half their season in Montreal. But the team is still talking to Shaw about the site at the northeast corner of Adamo and Channelside drives, he said last week. Those conversations were with Rays Chief Development Officer Melanie Lenz as recently as this year.
“They are still interested, for sure,” Shaw told the Tampa Bay Times in an interview. “There’s a lot of conversations that they have to have with a lot of people. So I have no intel as to whether it’s likely to occur.”
The team’s interest is enough for Shaw to include a ballpark option as he produces a master plan for the site and two other large adjacent tracts of land.
In 2016, Shaw paid $10 million for the 6.5-acre Gas Worx site on the west side of Channelside Drive. Last week, he confirmed that he is the buyer behind the planned purchase of 12 acres of Tampa Park Apartments, an aging housing complex for low-income tenants on Nick Nuccio Parkway. He has not disclosed the purchase price.
Combined, the lots add up to almost 30 acres. Shaw said the new development will be mainly residential, but also will include offices and retail. The master plan will include options for the Adamo site, with and without a ballpark.
Rays officials declined to comment for this story. The team has a contract with St. Petersburg to play at Tropicana Field through 2027.
“Likely it will be post-2027 unless they could work something out with St. Petersburg," Shaw said. “I hope baseball does come here. I think it would be good for Tampa. I think it’d be good for Ybor City.”
A decision on the site would have to be made in the next few years to leave time for construction, Shaw said. The master plan could take 18 months or more to produce.
Ballpark or not, Shaw’s plans are likely to generate considerable interest.
His holdings are in a pivotal spot for the city’s future growth. To the south lies Channelside and then Water Street, the 50-acre joint venture being developed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. To the west lies downtown Tampa.
“The site at Tampa Park Apartments is a critical piece of the overall vision for Tampa’s urban core, providing connectivity from Ybor through Water Street and into downtown," said Mayor Jane Castor in an email. "I look forward to all of our unique neighborhoods being connected as we work to transform Tampa’s tomorrow.”
Shaw is part of FBN Partners, a group of local investors who have loaned $15 million to Times Publishing Co., which owns the Tampa Bay Times.
He has completed several developments, including conversion of the Oliva Cigar Factory into a 32,000-square-foot, three-story apartment complex. He also worked with Alliant Partners of Tampa to build a 56,000-square-foot headquarters for Masonite International.
But he acknowledged that his latest venture is bigger and more ambitious than anything he has previously undertaken. He plans to partner with more experienced developers.
Shaw said his development will be in keeping with a trend of more people moving into urban cores and being less car-dependent. His corner of Ybor is served by the TECO Line Streetcar and is close to Tampa Union Station.
In a nod to Tampa Park Apartments, he would like to include lower-cost housing, which could include affordable and so-called workforce housing.
“You can’t have an urban core and only have really expensive housing,” he said.
Shaw said his plan is to enhance Ybor, not to create a separate district like Water Street. He wants to recreate Ybor’s neighborhood feel, although he would like the city to relax height restrictions that apply in Ybor to parcels south of Fourth Avenue.
“It’s an opportunity to create something that’s special, which is important to me,” he said.