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Could this be the year for a new Rays ballpark?

Tampa Bay RaysWith 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.

RELATED STORIES: Regional ballpark authority pitched for Tampa Bay; Mayor, council differ on approach to Rays ballpark issue; Tampa: We could have $100M for new Rays ballpark; Yet another group seeks to break Rays ballpark logjam; St. Pete mayor: there’s nothing wrong with the Trop; Tampa, St. Pete business leaders combine forces for new Rays ballpark; Could Rays declare bankruptcy to escape Trop lease?; Tampa Sports Authority declines to participate in Rays ballpark talks — for now; Chamber to take up Rays ballpark cause; Pinellas County extends hotel tax — but not enough for new Rays ballpark; Selig still “concerned” about Rays ballpark situation; Pinellas County mulls hotel-tax extension for new Rays ballpark; Rays: No, we’re not interested in limiting ballpark search to St. Pete; Can Tampa Bay support MLB?; St. Pete officials now say Trop is replaceable — at a price; Potential new player emerges in Rays ballpark battle; Rays: Time to talk new ballpark again; Rays ballpark brawl: Tampa versus St. Pete; Three Rays ballpark sites recommended by committee; New Rays ballpark discussion shifts to Tampa; Group: Any new Rays ballpark needs retractable roof; Group: Renovating Trop isn’t option in keeping Rays; Rays task force may have prelim recommendations by June — but no site; Rays propose Carillon Town Center site for ballpark


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