Pinellas County and a private developer are adding their voices to the groups looking to talk with the Tampa Bay Rays about a new ballpark, as interest in a facility is heating up.
Tuesday saw the Pinellas County Commission step in and request a meeting with the Rays and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster about the future of the team, a week after Hillsborough County extended an invitation to the Rays, which was quickly accepted. Pinellas County has a stake in the future of the Rays but has been mostly on the sidelines regarding discussions of the team: St. Pete, which runs Tropicana Field, has been much more active.
Meanwhile, yesterday a private developer, Darryl LeClair, formally asked to meet with Foster about a new ballpark at the Carillon business park, west of the Howard Frankland Bridge, the almost-five-mile bridge connecting St. Pete and Tampa. LeClair envisions a 12-acre site as being suitable for a Rays ballpark. and while the site is small, it’s not impossibly small for an MLB facility — Target Field sits on just over eight acres — but while there are multiple parking ramps, two freeways and a major city artery next to the home of the Twins, there’s little infrastructure next to the Carillon site. Challenging, to be sure.
While LeClair hasn’t said how he would finance a $600-million ballpark — even if the Rays kick in some bucks — the assumption is that associated development could help cover costs. And there’s one big problem with his plan: it’s still located in St. Pete, across the bay from where the money and the core of the Rays audience are. While Rays attendance is low in St. Pete partly because of the poor fan experience at Tropicana Field, location is also a factor: it’s pretty clear a lot of fans don’t want to make the drive at rush hour from Tampa to St. Pete. And that’s why the Carillon site may be a nonstarter.
One reason why there’s so much activity on the Rays front: despite Foster’s insistence that the team play out its Tropicana Field lease through 2027, bonds on the facility are set to be paid off in 2015. Should things become adversarial between the Rays and St. Pete, it would be harder to establish much in the way of damages, and the Rays could make a strong case that the facility no longer meets MLB standards when compared to other ballparks.
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