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Rays may have one more shot at a waterfront stadium in Tampa Bay

John Romano | While the focus has been rebuilding the Tropicana site, there is a new possibility near downtown Tampa that could be a game changer.
 
The Rays are still looking for a new home to hang their hats. Maybe it's a new stadium at the Tropicana Field site. Maybe it's on waterfront property near downtown Tampa. Maybe it's somewhere completely different. One way or another, they're intent on a new stadium.
The Rays are still looking for a new home to hang their hats. Maybe it's a new stadium at the Tropicana Field site. Maybe it's on waterfront property near downtown Tampa. Maybe it's somewhere completely different. One way or another, they're intent on a new stadium. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Oct. 21, 2022|Updated Oct. 22, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — So this is the point of the Great Stadium Quest where you roll your eyes, throw up your arms in exasperation and vow not to get suckered in again.

Or, maybe you rejoice.

Either reaction is acceptable because, after 15 years of proposals, we have a new (actually, old) possibility on the horizon (or the waterfront). And, like every plan previously, this could be a game changer.

Ever since the sister city proposal with Montreal was obliterated by Major League Baseball earlier this year, it has increasingly looked like the Tropicana Field site was the only solution for the Rays.

The Ybor City neighborhood ballpark was no longer tenable because the Rays would need a larger, domed stadium if they were to remain in Tampa Bay year-round and it would not fit in that Ybor spot.

Plus, the new mayor in St. Petersburg was enthusiastic about stadium possibilities, and the Trop site provided all kinds of land and funding opportunities. All the momentum was in St. Pete.

And yet, the team’s hopes were still in Tampa.

Downtown Tampa is better-suited geographically, has the demographics the Rays crave and now, finally, there might be a plot of land that perfectly suits their needs.

Could a partnership between Darryl Shaw, who is set to purchase waterfront property in Tampa, and the Rays be possible?
Could a partnership between Darryl Shaw, who is set to purchase waterfront property in Tampa, and the Rays be possible? [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Entrepreneur Darryl Shaw, who previously tried to partner with the Rays on two Ybor City ventures, has recently agreed to purchase 25 acres of waterfront property between Ybor and the Florida Aquarium.

This is land the Rays were eyeballing years ago but, because of timing, logistics, etc., they eventually moved their aspirations a few blocks away in Ybor. It’s a big enough plot of land. It’s even closer to downtown. And, if it escaped your attention, the description includes the words WATER and FRONT.

It is, potentially, perfect. But will it work?

Honestly, the odds are against it.

First of all, there are practical issues that need to be worked out. Shaw is buying the land in phases in order for International Ship Repair and Marine Services to prepare to move its operations. So the timing could be tricky in terms of starting construction.

Also — and this is the real issue — Tampa/Hillsborough has not bent over backward to come up with funding ideas for a ballpark on that side of the bay. Maybe you think that’s prudent. After all, there are probably more pressing needs for public funds than another stadium. I wouldn’t argue that point.

But, for all the corporations/politicians/fans who have been bad-mouthing St. Pete for all these years as the cause of the Rays attendance woes, this might be the last opportunity to build in Tampa.

After all, prime land is not in abundance in downtown. And the clock is ticking.

While the Rays have been fairly open about wanting to move closer to Tampa Bay’s corporate center, they are still entertaining the idea of rebuilding at the Trop site.

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Why? The tourist tax is much more lucrative on that side of the bay, which means the Rays would not have to pay as much of the stadium’s $1 billion-plus price tag. Plus, the sheer acreage around the Trop site would increase the possibility of building a destination-style complex like the Battery in Atlanta.

With that in mind, the Rays are talking to developers about partnering on a bid to reimagine the entire 86-acre site. The bids are due in another six weeks or so, which could make it a little tricky if the Rays have legitimate aspirations for the Tampa waterfront site.

Daniel Ramon, 7, of St. Petersburg, waves a foam No. 1 as the Rays play the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field on Sept. 25.
Daniel Ramon, 7, of St. Petersburg, waves a foam No. 1 as the Rays play the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field on Sept. 25. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

There is also the complication of the Trop’s legacy. More than 30 years ago, a mostly Black neighborhood was bulldozed to build the original stadium with the promise that the community would benefit from the progress. That promise has gone mostly unfulfilled.

St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch has rightfully made affordable housing a priority with the new construction, but there might be some debate about the best way to accomplish that. Building too much low-income housing around a $1 billion stadium is not a recipe for success, so there could be scenarios where developer/tax revenues from that land are used to build housing in another nearby area of St. Pete.

In other words, trying to squeeze too many objectives on to those 86 acres could be self-defeating. Finding the right developer and the right mix of housing and entertainment and economic drivers could be crucial to whether the Rays opt to pursue another stadium in St. Pete.

“City and county officials on both sides of the bay seem to appreciate the value of baseball and are focused on finding a solution,” Rays president Matt Silverman said. “The discussions are going on simultaneously in a parallel, non-competitive, non-adversarial way.

“Everyone understands time is of the essence.”

What’s the most likely outcome?

After 15 years of stops and starts, after discussions about land at/near Al Lang, Albert Whitted, Ybor City, Armature Works, Derby Lane, Hard Rock, Jefferson High, Tampa Bay Downs, Carillon and who-knows-where, the most likely outcome is continued frustration.

But at least there’s a chance again near downtown Tampa.

At least there’s a fantasy of a stadium built on the water.

At least Tampa Bay still has some hope.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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