Rays resurrect Ybor City stadium idea

Team tells Hillsborough commissioners Tampa could be Florida site for split season with Montreal.
Signs popped up around Ybor City in 2019 in the area where the Tampa Bay Rays announced plans to build a stadium.  The team later scrapped the proposal. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]
Signs popped up around Ybor City in 2019 in the area where the Tampa Bay Rays announced plans to build a stadium. The team later scrapped the proposal. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]
Published May 28, 2021|Updated May 28, 2021

The Tampa Bay Rays are again exploring the idea of putting a new stadium in Ybor City, more than two years after pulling the plug on a proposal to move the team from St. Petersburg to Tampa.

Rays’ President Brian Auld met separately with multiple Hillsborough County commissioners this week and raised the specter of pursuing the split season plan in Montreal, but with an Ybor City location potentially being the Rays home in Florida, said Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp and Commissioner Kimberly Overman.

“I don’t think they ever gave up that idea (of locating in Ybor). I’ve never gotten the sense they’ve really given up that idea,” said Overman.

The team, she said, is willing to do whatever it needs to increase attendance. A site in Ybor City “is still a great strategy to increasing attendance. It never came off the table.”

Kemp had a lunch meeting with Auld Thursday and categorized the Tampa stadium discussion as “preliminary” and “exploratory.” She asked if the team had a specific site in mind in Ybor City, but was told “no.”

At one point, Overman said, Auld said an open-air stadium made more economic sense than the previous plan to construct a stadium with a roof. She said he tossed out $700 million as a rough estimate of the cost.

Auld, in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, said the team periodically meets with elected officials and community leaders on both sides of the bay and the sessions allow the Rays to provide direct information on the split season idea.

Still, he said, “our priority is to keep baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come, and Ybor City, with its storied baseball past, would make an outstanding home for Tampa Bay’s baseball future.”

In 2018, the team unveiled a design for a $892 million Ybor City ballpark before scrapping the idea after clashing with county officials over funding. The Rays later announced a controversial plan to play half their season in Montreal. Their lease keeps them playing at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg through 2027.

This isn’t the first time the Ybor City idea has been rekindled publicly. A year ago, developer Darryl Shaw, co-founder of the BluePearl Specialty & Emergency Pet Hospital, said the team was still interested in his land at the northeast corner of Adamo and Channelside drives. Shaw also owns 12 acres nearby, the former site of the Tampa Park Apartments on Nick Nuccio Parkway, that had served as a housing complex for low-income tenants.

Commissioner Stacy White said he met with Auld Wednesday in what he categorized as an annual visit from the team executive. Auld didn’t offer any specifics, but in discussing the split season plan, he suggested using Ybor City as a “placeholder for a hypothetical stadium.”

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“To be fair to the Rays, they certainly did not categorize it as having a definite site, but it did pique my interest that they used Ybor as a placeholder in their hypothetical,” said White.

White leaves the commission after the 2022 election because of term limits and acknowledged he might be viewed as a “less-friendly commissioner” because of his stance opposing the 2018 sales tax referendum.

Commissioner Gwen Myers said she met with Auld virtually Thursday, but the topic of a stadium in Tampa was not broached. Commissioner Harry Cohen said he is scheduled to meet with the team representative in June.

Commissioners said the Hillsborough meetings were scheduled prior to this week’s brouhaha in St. Petersburg. Mayor Rick Kriseman said Wednesday he can’t negotiate a stadium deal with the Tampa Bay Rays while Stu Sternberg remains at the helm. Kriseman offered his comments during an appearance on The JP Peterson Show on WWBA-AM 820.

A group of minority owners of the Rays filed suit against Sternberg last weekend, alleging the majority owner/managing partner schemed to wrestle the team away from the other owners by changing the organization’s corporate ownership and pressuring them to sell their shares to him. The Rays denied the allegations.