ST. PETERSBURG — There are no timetables, no numbers, no drawings and no site — or even a side of Tampa Bay.
But Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said before Friday’s opener that he is “highly optimistic” the team will work out a deal for a new stadium — with a roof — in the area.
“It seems that people are interested and want us to be here,” Sternberg said. “I’m obviously interested and want to be here. So I would anticipate that we’ve got people that are lined up here to want to try to get something done. So I would like to think that at points this year, we’ll be able to get at it, and I’m highly optimistic.”
After Major League Baseball in January killed the team’s plan to split seasons between a new stadium in Tampa and Montreal, the Rays are back to looking for a new home in either St. Petersburg or Tampa.
Sternberg said Friday that both are still in play and there is no deadline for a decision, though the team also would like a quick resolution in an effort that has dragged on for at least 15 years.
“There’s no denying that St. Petersburg is growing up around us as we speak, and that’s helpful,” he said. “There’s no denying that Hillsborough and Tampa have taken huge leaps forward in the last few years, which is certainly helpful.
“We’ll have to go at it again with some fresh eyes and fresh minds. The idea of just having an outdoor stadium without a roof is out the door. Roofs and things get more expensive. Land is more expensive. The cost of construction, as anybody knows who’s done a remodel or is building something, those things have gotten more expensive. But I do know that these are challenges that we here in the Tampa Bay region can meet.”
Past efforts to get stadiums built on both sides will help inform the latest process, he said.
“We will certainly use what we’ve learned to this point about the areas, and we’ve put in many, many, many, many millions of dollars in resources and time to try to study it,” Sternberg said. “But things are a bit fresher, and I do know that we’ve got partners potentially on both sides of the Bay who are excited and interested (in) doing what we’d like to do, which is keep the team here for 50 years.”
The Rays proposed an open-air stadium as part of the split-city plan since the team would only be playing in the Tampa Bay area through early June. But the summer weather patterns make a roof a necessary feature. Sternberg said a sail-like covering, which the team once considered, “is out the door” due to concerns about lightning.
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“For various reasons, It probably needs to be enclosed,” Sternberg said. “I’ve sort of crossed over the Rubicon to understand that the roof is going to be necessary, and then you talk about fixed and sliding and those are all the issues we have to deal with. But with that comes some other challenges as well.”
Sternberg said the Rays will try to move quickly on selecting a site, but it will still take at least several months.
“There’s still a ton of work to be done,” he said. “But I will say that there’s nobody in this — from our fans to political people to community leaders to the Rays — there’s nobody that benefits from doing it quicker than we do.
“The sooner we get it done, the less expensive it’ll be because costs go up every year. The sooner we get it done, the sooner we can start selling into that new stadium. So it’s sort of like Name That Tune. If somebody wants me to name that tune, I’ll name that tune in three notes if necessary.”
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