The Tampa Bay Rays say they want to move ahead and consider ballpark proposals in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties — but only after addressing the future of Tropicana Field.
There’s been a flurry of activity on the ballpark front for the Rays, with two new proposals (Carillon Park in St. Pete and downtown Tampa) being floated in recent days. You can expect another ballpark proposal from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik as well, so you could see plenty of room for talks in the future.
The issue: the team’s lease at Tropicana Field forbids the team from talking with any other entity about a move away from the Trop. The team has honored that provision but is now proposing a change: the team can talk new ballparks located in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, but only after some sort of deal on the future of Tropicana Field is reached. The rub: the team is contractually tied to playing at the Trop through 2027. However, bonds on the facility are scheduled to be paid off in 2016 — about the time we’d see a new ballpark open.
The offer is fairly ingenious. It addresses a big concern laid out by Mayor Bill Foster: that St. Pete taxpayers not be on the hook for any Tropicana Field debt should the Rays move. If the debt is paid off by the time (either early or on time in 2016) the Rays move, a large objection will be out of the way. One could argue that the Tropicana Field site is better suited for some sort of other development, and a move of the Rays would free the city to seek a new redevelopment deal.
Of course, it’s hard to say how Foster will react: he’s pretty hard-nosed when it comes to ballpark negotiations. On the other hand. Tropicana Field isn’t magically turning into a magnificent facility that must be preserved at all costs, and with indications the economy is beginning to turn around, the city may find the fiscally prudent route is to see a new use for the ballpark site.
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