Commissioner says MLB is open to new Rays stadium in St. Petersburg

After disappointing collapse of Ybor deal, Manfred said focus is on St. Pete but not limited to Trop site
Commissioner Rob Manfred addressing reporters today in Orlando. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]
Commissioner Rob Manfred addressing reporters today in Orlando. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]
Published Feb. 8, 2019|Updated Feb. 8, 2019

ORLANDO — Though disappointed with the collapse of talks for the proposed Ybor City stadium, commissioner Rob Manfred said major league owners and officials are open to the Rays finding a new home on the St. Pete side of the bay.

"I think the focus is on St. Petersburg,'' Manfred said at the end of the quarterly owners meetings.

At the moment, that would appear to be the only option given expiration of an agreement that allowed the team to look for a new home in Tampa.

Manfred said Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg "continues to be enthusiastic and engaged about his alternatives'' for a new stadium.

"We are still committed to the region and would like to see a solution,'' Manfred said. "Certainly St. Petersburg is an alternative. It may be that there's another opportunity on the Tampa side at some point in the process.

"We think the Tampa Bay region is a major-league market. And Mr. Sternberg continues to devote a lot of time and effort to getting a positive result for the region.''

Though Manfred spoke favorably of the Ybor site when it was announced last spring, he said MLB has no preference.

"We're agnostic on where,'' Manfred said. "We really are. Other than in the region. I liked the Tampa site. I think there's probably places on the St. Pete side that could be completely workable as well.''

He wouldn't, however, say whether MLB would be okay with building a new stadium at the Tropicana Field site, where the Rays have had attendance issues for most of their 21 seasons. That is likely to be the preferred choice for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

"I don't want to get into individual sites,'' he said. "I'm going to wait and kind of look at those before I say.''

Manfred said he was “disappointed” the Rays and Tampa leaders couldn’t work out a deal for the Ybor site by the Dec. 31 expiration of the “free look” agreement. He sent a strongly worded letter to Hillsborough officials pointing out how their offer was incomplete in advance of the Rays announcing in December that they were ending talks.

"There was a lot of time and resources devoted to getting a deal done on that side,'' Manfred said. "I very reluctantly weighed in on the topic because I felt it was important for people to understand why it came up short and where it came up short.''