The Rays are in the process of completing a new stadium in St. Petersburg, which is a significant component of a broader urban development initiative.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who are headed to the playoffs, finalized their preparations on Tuesday for a new stadium in St. Petersburg. This stadium is part of a larger $6.5 billion project that encompasses affordable housing, retail establishments, bars and restaurants, and even a museum dedicated to Black history.
The site is on the same 86-acre (34-hectare) tract of downtown land where Tropicana Field now sits. That domed, oddly-tilted ballpark would be demolished once the new one is built, in time for opening day 2028, Rays co-president Brian Auld said in an interview.
The plan, which still has some political hurdles to clear on funding and government approvals, would keep the Rays in St. Petersburg for the foreseeable future despite constant talk of the team moving across the bay to Tampa and possibly to Nashville, Tennessee. A plan to plan to split home games with Montreal was rejected by Major League Baseball.
Auld expressed that they will remain in Tampa Bay for an extended period. They are excited that, for the first time, they have a definite plan to ensure the longevity of the Rays in the area.
On Tuesday, the announcement regarding the new ballpark and the accompanying project was made during an event held inside Tropicana Field.
Janet Long, the chair of the Pinellas County Commission, expressed her excitement about the Rays’ permanence, stating that it is the most significant economic development endeavor in the county’s history. She emphasized that this project holds greater significance beyond just sports.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has expressed the possibility of expanding the league to 32 teams once the Rays and Oakland Athletics secure their ballpark agreements, as they have suggested relocating to a proposed stadium in Las Vegas.
Since their first season in 1998, the Rays have been based in St. Petersburg. Their current home, known as The Trop, has received criticism for its dampness, outdatedness, and the fact that fly balls occasionally hit the roof support beams. The construction of The Trop in 1990 aimed to attract a major league team to the area and cost $138 million.
Officials have stated that the upcoming stadium will have an estimated cost of $1.3 billion. Co-president Matt Silverman mentioned that the funding will be divided equally between the Rays and the city and county governments. The stadium will feature a fixed roof to combat Florida’s rainy and hot weather, but it will also have doors and windows on the sides that can be opened for fresh air during cooler months.
Silverman stated that the Major League Baseball stadium will possess the lowest capacity. While the presence of a roof is essential, the aim is to establish a sense of closeness.
Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg have committed approximately $300 million each for the construction of the ballpark. The county plans to utilize funds from a bed tax, primarily contributed by visitors, which can only be allocated towards expenses related to tourism and economic development. Mayor Ken Welch of St. Petersburg stated that the city’s portion will be financed through bonds, without imposing any new or heightened property taxes.
“I consider the $300 million as a valuable investment that will bring benefits to the city of St. Petersburg,” stated Welch. “I am not in favor of obstacles. We are embarking on a journey towards progress for our city in the long run.”
The City Council and County Commission have scheduled meetings in October to initiate discussions on funding and various matters, particularly concerning the extensive project encompassing affordable housing, involvement of minority contractors, and allocation of funds for educational and day care programs. These meetings will extend into the following year.
The Rays, who are currently in second place in the AL East with a record of 92-59, secured their fifth consecutive spot in the playoffs on Sunday. However, their home games have an average attendance of 17,778, which ranks 27th out of the 30 teams.
The overall project goes beyond baseball. It has been pushed by Welch, St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor, as a way to make amends for the destruction of the Historic Gas Plant neighborhood whose mostly Black residents were forced to move in part because of the Rays’ ballpark and also the construction of an interstate highway. Welch’s grandfather ran a woodyard in the community and the future mayor spent many of his younger days there.
“I have always been confident that this day would arrive,” Welch stated, as we now make a substantial advancement towards honoring the commitments made four decades ago.
Hines global development company, which is managing the project, says it will include more than 6,000 new apartments and condominiums, office space, retail space, a hotel, a Black history museum and more. The goal is to break ground in the second half of 2024.
Silverman stated that the significance of the location goes beyond being a mere baseball team’s home. The issue of the stadium has been a long-standing concern for this franchise. We are in the process of developing a brand new community.
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