TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Rays are narrowing their search for a new Tampa ballpark to a site in Ybor City where Kforce had its headquarters until earlier this year, city and county officials said Monday.
“I heard some conversation that they’re going there. That’s one of the sites that’s being discussed,” said Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda.
Miranda said the information didn’t come from the Rays.
Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise also confirmed the site at 1001 E. Palm Ave is in play.
“I have heard that,” said Wise. “How it would be situated... I don’t know that.”
She said no proposal has been made and no negotiations are ongoing.
“We certainly will be willing to discuss what they want to propose to us. We want them to stay in the Tampa Bay area,” Wise said.
At a midday ceremony unfurling a “Rays Up!” banner on the side of the city’s Municipal Office Building, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor didn’t get specific when asked if the Rays, city and county had zeroed in on a ballpark location.
“I think that’s a question for the Rays,” said Castor, moments after the ceremony ended and Rays team presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman left without addressing reporters. “I know that they’ve got a couple of great spots in the city of Tampa and probably elsewhere as well.”
The Rays declined to comment Monday afternoon.
Along with an adjoining piece of property currently owned by Hillsborough Community College, the site — once the headquarters of the staffing and professional services company — would be large enough for a 25,000-seat stadium that the Rays have proposed for their split season concept with Montreal.
The site is bounded by East 7th Avenue on the south, Nuccio Parkway on the east, Palm Avenue on the north and Nebraska Avenue on the west. A logical scenario to add enough land for a stadium would include the community college property next door.
The property falls within the boundaries of the city’s Ybor City Community Redevelopment Area, which could mean millions in potential city-generated dollars for a new ballpark.
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If a deal is reached, it is expected to be for an outdoor stadium with dual-use for the team-owned Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer franchise.
An investor group led by Darryl Shaw bought the Kforce land in May for an announced $24 million. It included the 6.25 acres holding the Kforce building and an adjoining 2.6 acres of vacant commercial land. The 9.55-acre Hillsborough Community College property is leased to Tampa Electric Co. The college answered a public records request, saying it had no written documents pertaining to the 1898 Nuccio Parkway parcel since Jan. 1, 2019. The utility said it had a 99-year lease on the property.
“I kind of like the Kforce building,” Hillsborough Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp said about the building’s aesthetics, “but I guess a (stadium) is the priority.”
Shaw and his partners also have assembled land south of the site at the former Tampa Plaza Apartments and to the southeast near Adamo Drive, where the Rays had announced plans for an $892 million ballpark before that deal fell apart in 2018.
“If the Tampa Bay Rays and the community decide that Ybor is the best home for baseball in Tampa Bay, we will work to bring their vision to life in a way that complements the history and character of Ybor and the surrounding neighborhood,” Shaw said in a Sept. 28 statement to the Tampa Bay Times.
The Rays ballpark saga has stretched nearly a decade and a half since the team unveiled a waterfront stadium proposal in St. Petersburg in 2007. That deal fell apart the following year.
Within a week of the Kforce sale, Auld registered as a lobbyist with the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County, according to city and county records, and began meeting with elected officials.
On Friday, Auld made a forceful case to a Tampa audience that the split-season concept with Montreal is the only way for Tampa Bay to keep its professional baseball team.
Miranda, who grew up playing baseball with Hall-of-Famer Tony LaRussa in Cuscaden Park about 10 blocks north, said he had concerns about any effect on the adjoining Centro Asturiano, a national historic landmark that is more than a century old.
Miranda used to go to the social club founded by Spanish immigrants every New Year’s Eve to listen to bands. It’s a culturally vital part of Ybor City history, he said.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the historic building would be demolished, said one Hillsborough County commissioner.
“No, no, no, no. I’m sure there are no plans to tear that down,” said Hillsborough Commissioner Harry Cohen.
Miranda said the Kforce site had the potential for baseball.
“Major League Baseball wants to be in the center of the city. Well, this is where the city started,” Miranda said.
The team’s use agreement with St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field ends after the 2027 season. Auld said Friday that time is running out to find a suitable spot in Tampa Bay.
Castor has warmed to the idea of a Rays ballpark in recent months. She said Monday that she was confident a new home in Tampa would support the Rays.
“Without a doubt. No doubt about that,” she said. “This is a big city and we truly support all of our athletic teams.”
Is a stadium deal close?
“Yeah, I think we’re going to get closer. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the Tampa Bay Rays stay in this area,” Castor said.