So the Rays are staying. Here are 3 key points. | Editorial
Finally, there is a plan for keeping professional baseball that the community can react to.
A rendering of the Tampa Bay Rays' new stadium in the Historic Gas Plant District in St. Petersburg. Courtesy of Hines
A rendering of the Tampa Bay Rays' new stadium in the Historic Gas Plant District in St. Petersburg. Courtesy of Hines [ Courtesy of Hines ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Sept. 19|Updated Sept. 19

The announcement Tuesday that the Tampa Bay Rays would build a new stadium in St. Petersburg marks a promising new chapter for the Major League franchise and the growing vitality of the region. Though many details remain, the news brings much-needed clarity to the future of professional baseball in Tampa Bay by finally giving the team and regional leaders a vision to collectively shoot for.

The Rays announced Tuesday the stadium would be built near the current Tropicana Field site as part of the redevelopment of the 86-acre Historic Gas Plant District. The fixed-roof facility would seat around 30,000, be ready for the 2028 season and cost $1.3 billion; the Rays would pay about $700 million and the city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County would cover the remaining $600 million. Government officials from St. Petersburg and Pinellas County joined the Rays at Tuesday’s news conference and heralded the deal.

While many questions remain, Tuesday’s announcement was a critical start on three essential fronts.

Keep in region. The agreement would conclude a 16-year search for the Rays’ new home, a sputtering, opaque process that fed a longstanding public debate over providing tax subsidies to professional sports teams. If approved, the deal accomplishes the main goal community leaders expressed from the start — to keep the Rays somewhere in Tampa Bay following the 2027 completion of a 30-year lease at Tropicana Field. Toward that end, Hillsborough County Commission Chairperson Ken Hagan may have failed to lure the Rays to Tampa, but he contributed to Tuesday’s breakthrough by highlighting for years the franchise’s regional fan base and regional economic value.

Finally, a plan. Area leaders finally have a site and the outlines of a contract. Now they can focus on the terms for keeping the Rays rather than obsess about other suitor cities maneuvering behind the scenes. This agreement gives both sides more skin in the game, and it brings greater urgency to the timeline for opening the stadium complex. As the signature destination of the Gas Plant redevelopment, the ballpark will shape the quality and character of this rebuilt neighborhood. Now the design for this project can move from concept to reality. The Rays and area governments can start talking in concrete terms about moving their relationship forward. And the public has something tangible to react to.

The mayor’s move. For years, the question was: Where are the Rays going? By choosing to stay put, the deal casts St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch much more directly into the limelight. Can the mayor get this done? How will he navigate complaints over taxpayer funding to push his larger vision for the Gas Plant project? And how will Welch mobilize regional leaders to champion the St. Petersburg stadium? It’s a tall order, but give Welch credit: He’s already pushed the Rays deal further than any previous mayor. Welch reiterated again Tuesday how he sees the project as a means for addressing racial equity and housing. That could be an invaluable lens for winning over skeptics.

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The deal must still be approved by the St. Petersburg City Council and the Pinellas County Commission, and the public will certainly weigh in as more details unfold. But this community finally has a deal before it that keeps the Rays, enlivens St. Petersburg and shapes Tampa Bay’s broader appeal. Now the public can weigh the pros and cons and make an informed decision.

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 Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.