If the Tampa Bay Rays can extract a concession from St. Pete to look at new-ballpark sites in the region, Hillsborough County is ready to talk about a new downtown Tampa facility.
The Rays and St. Petersburg officials met Wednesday to discuss a change in the Tropicana Field lease that would allow the Rays to explore sites throughout the entire region. A prohibition on such talks has been vehemently opposed by St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, who has insisted the Rays finish out their lease at Tropicana Field, which runs through 2027. It’s increasingly looking like that won’t happen, and with Foster under criticism for playing hardball with the Rays (he’s in the middle of an intense reelection campaign), a deal could happen.
The current situation calls for the Rays to financially analyzing a ballpark site in the Carillon area, as well as the cost of leaving the Trop. From the Tampa Tribune:
The agreement would specify how extensive an analysis of the Carillon stadium site would need to be, ensuring the location gets more than a cursory look, Nurse said. That likely would include an analysis of how many people live within 30 minutes of the business park, located north of St. Petersburg and just off the Howard Frankland bridge, and whether estimated extra revenue from ticket sales would be sufficient to cover the cost of the Rays paying off the team’s portion of a new stadium, which could be as much as $200 million. Such an analysis also would have to consider whether the Carillon site could handle game-day traffic and would have sufficient parking.
In September, CityScape LLC proposed building a 35,000-seat ballpark at Carillon that would have been surrounded by new retail shops, apartments and offices. Cost estimates for that stadium ranged from $424 million for an open-air ballpark to $577 million for one with a retractable roof. While city officials were optimistic the proposal might end the stalemate over the stadium and keep the Rays in Pinellas County, developer Darryl LeClair never detailed his financing plan, and the project never got off the ground.
If it’s determined that the Carillon site isn’t feasible — and most insiders don’t think it is because of the parking and access issues — then the Rays could expand the search for a new ballpark to the entire Tampa Bay area, and one of the first places to look would be downtown Tampa, where city and county officials would be eager to help build a ballpark on one of several previously identified ballpark sites. From the Tampa Bay Times:
Two of Hillsborough County’s top elected officials stand ready to talk if the city of St. Petersburg agrees to let the Tampa Bay Rays explore new stadium sites outside of Pinellas County.
But neither Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn nor Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan is eager to reach for the public’s checkbook to cover the cost of a new ballpark.
“It’s got to be a partnership,” Buckhorn said Wednesday when asked what the Rays ought to know going into any discussion with Hillsborough officials.
Whether this represents a genuine breakthrough or a reelection ploy by Foster remains to be seen: given Foster’s absolute, unequivocal opposition to allowing the Rays ownership a chance to explore a new ballpark elsewhere in the region, it would be a remarkable about-face.
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