TAMPA — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor met Tuesday morning with Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg, who expressed to her for the first time in person the team’s interest in building a new baseball stadium at the former Kforce headquarters site in Ybor City.
Castor’s communications director characterized the meeting as a “check-in” and “a very broad discussion.” But the 90-minute length of the meeting alone signaled a strengthening effort on both sides to get a ballpark deal done.
“We’re still waiting on terms and details,” said Adam Smith, the spokesman. The Tampa Bay Times first reported on the team’s interest in the Kforce site on the western edge of Ybor City in October when city and county officials confirmed the Rays were looking at the site owned by a real estate investment group headed by Darryl Shaw.
The city has previously confirmed it plans to ask for $30 million in state transportation funding to invest primarily in bike and pedestrian paths that would connect the area around the Kforce property to the Riverwalk downtown.
Smith said that Sternberg and Rays executives Brian Auld, Melanie Lenz and Rafaela Amador voiced their interest in the former Kforce site near the intersection of E Palm Avenue and Nuccio Parkway.
“We had a very productive conversation with Mayor Castor and her team about the creation of a neighborhood ballpark in Ybor City.” the team said in a statement Tuesday. “We appreciate the Mayor’s leadership and support for the Sister City Baseball plan and her efforts to help keep the Rays in Tampa Bay for generations to come.”
Joining Castor in a large conference room at Stantec, an engineering firm with offices in Harbour Island, were chief of staff John Bennett; Marley Wilkes, the mayor’s director of strategic initiatives, and Smith.
Members of the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization — elected and appointed officials sitting as transportation planners — also got a preview of the proposed stadium location Tuesday.
A map provided by the city of Tampa to the planning agency depicted the stadium as a blue square sitting amid tens of millions of dollars worth of proposed transportation investments in Ybor City.
The stadium was not mentioned until Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder broached the subject following a presentation from Lisa Silva of the agency and Graham Tyrell of the land development company Kettler, a partner with Shaw on the proposed Gas Worx mixed-use project. The Gas Worx plan calls for as many as 5,000 homes, 500,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of retail on more than 50 acres.
“I know it’s a hot-button thing and I don’t want to put anyone in an awkward situation,” Dingfelder said, before asking where the stadium would go.
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Silva highlighted the site on the city map, but Kettler did not include the stadium in the master- plan documents shared with the agency board members.
“Just to be clear, that is outside the Gas Worx area,” said Tyrell.
“None of the fancy photographs or whatever that you have show the baseball stadium as it relates to this project? Because I mean it’s kind of adjacent and same owner and all that,” Dingfelder said.