With ownership, MLB management and local business leaders increasingly frustrated over Tropicana Field, 2012 could be the year when we see agreement on a new Tampa Bay Rays home.
The new year appears to be starting on a good note for the Rays: Owner Stuart Sternberg is set to meet on Jan. 17 with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster about the current state of affairs. Sternberg’s position has been pretty clear: he wants to open the search for a new facility to neighboring Tampa and Hillsborough County, both to be closer to the team’s population base and to broaden the potential funding base for any new facility. Foster has consistently held that the team’s lease at the Trop, which runs through 2027, is sacrosanct, and the only scenario where he could foresee an early lease termination is if a new ballpark is built somewhere else in St. Petersburg.
Local business leaders spent a lot of time in 2011 laying the groundwork for a new ballpark, a process that’s mind-numbingly slow but necessary.
Realistically, there’s only one way out for ballpark proponents in Tampa Bay: overpay for a new facility by paying off Tropicana Field bonds early. Foster hasn’t exactly been a dogged opponent of a new ballpark, but he has been dogged in protecting the city’s investment in the facility. The Rays earlier had floated a scenario where the team would leave and the Trop site be opened for development. We’re guessing any possible new-ballpark solution will first address the financial future of the Trop and then place the ballpark somewhere in Tampa — it it’s to happen at all.
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