Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, long on the sidelines during the area ballpark discussions, has come out and said the search for a new-ballpark site must include the entire Tampa Bay area, not just downtown St. Pete.
Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, long on the sidelines during the area ballpark discussions, has come out and said the search for a Tropicana Field replacement must include the entire Tampa Bay area, not just downtown St. Pete.
He made the remarks after a meeting with St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster. Previously Foster and other St. Pete officials were absolutists about the Rays either fulfilling the terms of their Tropicana Field lease or buying it out. More recently, however, this attitude has softened, and Foster has indicated his willingness to negotiate the terms of a release of the Rays from St. Pete, which would include a return of spring training to the city. As we wrote last week, let the horse trading begin; it has begun.
"The future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay depends on finding the optimal site for a new ballpark," said Sternberg. "It is my conviction that if baseball is to survive and flourish in Tampa Bay for the long-term, we must rise above municipal boundaries and work together with a common interest. We will consider any potential ballpark site in Tampa Bay, but only as part of a process that considers every ballpark site in Tampa Bay.
"Our ability to compete and, quite frankly, to survive rests on our ability to attract people and businesses to our ballpark. Our customers are our fans. And like any other business, we need to be in a location that is convenient for our fans to reach us."
There's already been some interest from Hillsborough County officials for hosting a new ballpark somewhere near the city of Tampa, perhaps near Raymond James Stadium. And there are some St. Pete sites considerably closer to the area population core than is downtown St. Pete.
"Baseball in the Tampa Bay area does not belong to Stu Sternberg, just as it doesn't belong to St. Petersburg or Tampa, Pinellas or Hillsborough. It is a regional asset. It belongs to our fans throughout the region. For this asset to be preserved, a comprehensive process to explore a new ballpark must begin. That process needs to consider all possible locations throughout Tampa Bay — meaning Tampa and Hillsborough as well."
There are two factors at play here: the best place for the ballpark and a funding plan. Neither are apparent.
"The Rays are a valued member of our regional community, and that's exactly how we want things to remain," Sternberg said. "We appreciate all the support we have received from our loyal base of fans and supporters in both turning around this franchise and in trying to figure out how to keep it here in Tampa Bay."
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