TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor said Monday that she thinks Ybor City is the ideal location for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark.
Now, she wants team officials to publicly show their hand on where they want to build a new stadium in Tampa Bay.
“I think in short order, they’re going to have to come out and say, ‘This is the location that we want to be,’ because they’ve never said that, in Pinellas or Hillsborough,” Castor told the Tampa Bay Times. “We just need to get moving on this.”
The mayor said she believes the former Kforce headquarters on E Palm Ave and Nuccio Parkway is the best spot. That location was first reported by the Times in October, but the Rays have never said publicly that they want to play there.
After Major League Baseball killed the team’s plan to split the season between Tampa Bay and Montreal, the Rays haven’t said much about what they plan to do next.
Castor said she hasn’t spoken to team officials in about a month. Meanwhile, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has said his city is still in the conversation and has placed Albert Whitted Airport on the city’s waterfront on the table as a possible landing spot for the Rays.
Castor said she had seen renderings of the Rays design for the Kforce site before the split season concept was nixed. She was impressed with how the team had integrated the ballpark design into Ybor’s architecture and feel, much like the Baltimore Orioles’ stadium, Camden Yards.
“You could compare it to like a Camden Yards, you know, kind of feel like it had been there forever. It belonged in the neighborhood,” Castor said.
The Rays didn’t immediately respond to Castor’s comments Monday.
Some have questioned whether the Kforce property is large enough for a full-season stadium that would require a roof. Castor said by building vertically and using a “rain shield” type of roof, which doesn’t fully cover the stadium, similar to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, which was host to this year’s Super Bowl, the site could work.
But, the mayor said, it’s important to get some movement on the stadium saga, which has stretched on for 15 years. The Rays have a use agreement with St. Petersburg to play at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season.
The mayor, a former college basketball star at the University of Tampa, said the “shot clock is ticking” on getting a deal done in Tampa Bay.
“I don’t want this to be something that comes down to sort of a last minute crunch time. We need to take advantage of as many days as we have to thoughtfully propose a location, a design and a price,” Castor said.
Right now, she said, that’s up to the Rays, who she said have to present new plans and a price tag. Then, the county, the city and the Tampa Sports Authority can begin to calculate how much public money will be available.
When a $700 million split-season ballpark was still viable, Castor said city and county officials would have a financial package ready by around April 1. But, with the Rays regrouping, that’s not going to happen, she said.
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But if the Rays do decide to build in Tampa, Castor said, the public will be involved in the discussions about public money. And the Rays will have to build community support for the idea.
Could the Rays build somewhere else in Ybor? After all, they unveiled renderings for a $892 million stadium near Adamo Drive in 2018.
Darryl Shaw owns the Kforce site and the 50-acre GasWorx development to the southeast. He recently told the Times that the previous site for a Rays ballpark near Adamo Drive —which fell apart in 2018 —was still possible, but not his preference.
Shaw said that portion of GasWorx has been planned for high-rise residential towers now.
“Technically, yes, it’s doable. But I think through looking at it for what’s best for Ybor. First and foremost, it’s people living here ... There’s a lot of units anticipated for that location. And I would hesitate to lose that,” Shaw said earlier this month.
Castor downplayed any competition between St. Petersburg and Tampa for the team, but made her feelings clear.
“We’ve always said as long as they’re in the Tampa Bay area, that’s a win for everyone. But, clearly the preference would be to have them in our backyard,” she said.