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Tampa and the Rays want you to stroll, bike or hop a scooter to new Ybor ballpark

The Tampa Bay Rays and city officials met four times last month about creating a way for fans to get to the park without cars.
The city skyline, left, and a Kforce building, right, seen in the distance in October, at a possible site for a Tampa stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. If a request for state money is approved, two projects could link Tampa Heights and the Channel District to the stadium site, making it easier to travel there by bike, scooter or walking.
The city skyline, left, and a Kforce building, right, seen in the distance in October, at a possible site for a Tampa stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. If a request for state money is approved, two projects could link Tampa Heights and the Channel District to the stadium site, making it easier to travel there by bike, scooter or walking. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 1, 2021|Updated Dec. 2, 2021

TAMPA — Ever fantasized about taking a boat to the Rays game and then hopping on a scooter, a bike or your own two feet to catch a ballgame in Ybor City?

That possibility is a lot more likely if the city of Tampa’s request for $43 million in state infrastructure money becomes reality. Two projects, totaling nearly $21 million, within that infrastructure package are labeled “corridors” linking Tampa Heights and the Channel District to the former Kforce headquarters site in Ybor, where the team is said to be focused on building a new ballpark.

Related: Rays ballpark plans focus on former Kforce site in Ybor City

Tampa Bay Rays officials discussed the idea with Mayor Jane Castor’s chief of staff, John Bennett, in early November, later meeting with city mobility director Vik Bhide and staff to discuss creating two dedicated bicycle and pedestrian corridors that would make it possible for fans to get to a proposed 27,000-seat stadium at E Palm Avenue and Nuccio Parkway, said Castor communications director Adam Smith.

Related: Tampa Bay Rays get more specific on ballpark cost

The proposed corridors would link the ballpark to two popular spots on the downtown Riverwalk: Armature Works and the Channel District. They would be completed by 2025, according to the city.

The team doesn’t have a deal in place yet to move from St. Petersburg, where they’ve played since 1998, to Tampa. But the accelerating discussions about access improvements and infrastructure that would make it easier to get fans in the seats underscore how serious the team is about moving across the bay.

City leaders have long wanted to increase mobility options between downtown and Ybor, Tampa Heights and the Channel District. Former Mayor Bob Buckhorn talked often about creating a seamless circle of activity and development around downtown. And Castor has made mobility one of her top priorities since taking office in 2019.

The city and Rays plans “dovetailed,” said Smith on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, Bhide released a statement through Smith saying Tampa and “multiple stakeholders” are working to secure funding for “critical transportation improvements,” which have been identified “following years of studies and public engagement.”

“They will also provide pedestrian capacity that will support new residential development in Ybor City, a possible stadium and high-speed rail station,” Bhide’s statement read.

Smith said no records — audio, visual or written — exist for any of the meetings between Tampa city staff and Rays executives.

The Rays didn’t respond to a request for comment.

According to information provided by the city, one corridor would proceed from Ola Avenue near Armature Works along Seventh Avenue toward Ybor. The other would follow Channelside Drive from Twiggs Street to Nuccio Parkway.

The city released a broad outline of its request to the state just before Thanksgiving. On Tuesday, Smith said the project would also benefit the GasWorx project, a 50-acre development adjacent to the Kforce site. Both properties are owned by an investment group headed by Darryl Shaw. Smith said the city’s plans would proceed no matter the outcome of the Rays stadium saga.

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Hillsborough County officials also met with the Rays recently. County administrator Bonnie Wise met with Rays executives Melanie Lenz and Rafaela Amador on Nov. 12. At that meeting, Wise said, she urged the team to work with city officials but didn’t know the particulars.

“They talked conceptually. With me, they did not get into any of the details on any specific project. They just spoke broadly,” she said.

Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder, who holds a citywide seat, said he thinks the idea is exciting. Connecting the fast-developing neighborhoods of Tampa Heights, Ybor and the Channel District with the Riverwalk “just makes sense.”

And the idea reflects a changing demographic in those neighborhoods, one the Rays might hope to tap into: youth.

“Younger people tend to like walking, riding bikes and using scooters,” Dingfelder said. If the Rays do end up building a ballpark at the old Kforce site, the corridors will help ease congestion and provide options for people.

If the team doesn’t end up in Tampa, those lanes will still be an improvement, Dingfelder said.

“Of course, if the Rays end up there, that’s even better,” he said.

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