ST. PETERSBURG — Since the Tampa Bay Rays began their search for a site to build a new stadium more than a decade ago, sea level rise has changed where they can look, team president Brian Auld said Tuesday.
“Sites that once appeared to be great places to build a ballpark are now expected to be underwater,” Auld said during a panel announcing a new report on climate change from the Tampa Bay Partnership.
Auld is chairperson of the Tampa Bay Partnership’s Resilience Task Force. The group is made up of business leaders from across the region.
Speaking after his panel appearance, Auld declined to say which sites the team might have once considered, but no longer will.
“I will say that cost estimates for constructing on the waterfront — which is something that for a lot of good reasons many folks would be interested in seeing a ballpark that highlights the beauty of our region and the beauty of our waterfront — are getting more expensive and more challenging,” he said.
Auld noted the interior of Al Lang Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team, sometimes floods. The Rays also own the Rowdies.
“Where the Tampa Bay Rowdies play right now, Al Lang Field, which is one of the most beautiful pieces of earth on the planet in my particular opinion, we get floods that are like a foot deep in the locker room every year now,” Auld said Tuesday. “It’s not ideal for running a major league franchise.”
The Rays were once very high on the Al Lang site: In 2007 the team announced plans to build a $450 million stadium that seats 34,000 on St. Petersburg’s waterfront. Instead of a fixed roof, the stadium was to have a retractable, sail-like covering. But the plan went nowhere, and the next year the team decided not to pursue a public referendum, which would have been needed to build on the city’s waterfront.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, who was attending the same conference as Auld on Tuesday, told the Tampa Bay Times he has not heard from Rays leadership that they have eliminated any potential stadium sites because of climate change concerns.
The new mayor said he wants to evaluate all potential stadium locations, including Al Lang and the land around Tropicana Field.
“I’d like to see all options fully evaluated, and certainly sea level rise has to be factored in,” Welch said. “But it’s much bigger than the Rays.”
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Climate change and sea level rise are “embedded in any discussion we have with any developer,” the mayor said.
Welch had asked officials earlier this year to reopen discussions about the best use of downtown’s waterfront Albert Whitted Airport, which neighbors Al Lang Stadium. Around the same time, he publicly declared “St. Pete is back in the game!” to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg.
Two Pinellas County officials previously confirmed that Albert Whitted was mentioned as a potential stadium site during an early February meeting with the Rays, but they said there was more focus placed on Al Lang.
Welch said in a February news conference that he does not have a specific plan for Albert Whitted, but would like to see those 119 acres as a green space extension of the city’s popular waterfront parks.
On Tuesday, he listed the Mahaffey Theater, Dali Museum and University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus as key properties that could be affected by rising seas. The city, he said, already has a $3 billion plan to improve its infrastructure.
Auld, speaking on the panel Tuesday, also said the Rays want a new stadium to be able to serve as an emergency management center for the region. Welch said he had not heard of that idea before.