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Good to see conversations heat up about Rays stadium | Editorial
The more public push for splitting the season with Montreal helps clarify the team’s priorities.
The Tampa city skyline, left, on Monday and near right, a possible stadium site for the Tampa Bay Rays in Ybor City.
The Tampa city skyline, left, on Monday and near right, a possible stadium site for the Tampa Bay Rays in Ybor City. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 7

The excitement about the Tampa Bay Rays is heating up, both on and off the field. The American League East champs are battling Boston in the playoffs, just as Rays officials seemed to have reengaged in the conservation over a new stadium. While a location and a deal are not on the table, there is a welcome sense that momentum is building, that the Rays remaining here is viable, and that Tampa Bay is serious about doing what it can to keep the team in the region.

Rays President Brian Auld sent two important messages during a recent appearance at the Cafe con Tampa speaker series, a popular, weekly salon for Tampa’s movers and shakers. First, the Rays view a split-season deal with Montreal as the most promising proposal to maintain a presence in Tampa Bay for the next 30 years. And Auld underscored a sense of urgency, noting the Rays’ obligation to play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg expires after the 2027 season. “We don’t have a lot of time,” he told the crowd, invoking the deadline at the Trop. “Right now, we don’t have a place to play.”

That the Rays are focusing attention on their future while still competing this season is encouraging enough. But they’re also offering a more cogent, practical case for splitting time with Montreal. Building two open-air stadiums in distant markets will be challenging. But for Tampa Bay, a 25,000-seat ballpark would be cheaper, and perhaps more versatile, than earlier billion-dollar plans. And it could also be a newfound engine for tourism and economic development.

Tampa and Hillsborough county officials said last week the Rays were narrowing their stadium search to a site at the western edge of the historic Ybor City district. 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. As conceived, the stadium would be multi-use, hosting the Rays, spring training, the Rays-owned Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer franchise and traveling sports tournaments. Darryl Shaw, who leads an investor group that bought the property in May, said in September that if all sides coalesce around the site “we will work to bring their vision to life.”

Many area residents have pushed back or are skeptical about the Rays’ plans, questioning whether the team is merely looking for leverage as it contemplates a new lease. The Rays should be visible in the months ahead and as transparent as possible about their proposal. Building political support for a publicly subsidized stadium will be a heavy lift, despite the Rays’ performance on the field and Shaw’s commitment. It would be doubly difficult if taxpayers are suspicious about the Rays’ intentions.

A more promising era, though, seems around the corner, with the November elections for St. Petersburg’s new mayor, and with new attention to the side benefits a split season could bring to Tampa Bay. Community leaders are also looking to a post-pandemic world and looking to line up big-ticket civic priorities. The Rays have stuck a hand in the air to keep themselves on the radar. It’s a good strategy, and good public relations. And now that the novelty of a split season concept has partly worn off, it’s time to shape the details of a stadium agreement and explore how to get there.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.