We end 2016 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Ballpark Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #8: The Tampa Bay Rays continuing ballpark search.
This year, the Tampa Bay Rays continued their search for a new ballpark to replace Tropicana Field, setting their sights on the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. While the past year has yielded some conversations about what solutions could be offered, numerous questions remain as to how, when, and where the Rays will secure a new facility.
Tropicana Field has been the Rays’ home since 1998, but it was first constructed in the mid-1980’s and is regarded as out-of-date by baseball standards. There have been questions over the years about whether the Rays can strike an agreement for a new ballpark in the Tampa Bay region and, if so, whether the club is better off in Tampa or St. Petersburg.
Some clarity was brought to that issue in January, when St. Petersburg officials gave the Rays the authority to look beyond the city and consider other locations in the region for a new ballpark. That ultimately set the course for a year in which the Rays received pitches from both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
Numerous options were floated in Pinellas County, and some cities offered pitches of their own. Oldsmar, which sits just west of the Hillsborough/Pinellas line, proposed a ballpark and mixed-use development project near Tampa Bay Downs. St. Petersburg, meanwhile, looked at the potential of constructing a new ballpark near Tropicana Field as part of a larger development.
Hillsborough County also made its interest known. The county could offer a few advantages, including sites closer to downtown Tampa and officials spent much of the year targeting high impact tourism status. Under that designation, which is obtained if the county earns more than $30 million in tourism tax revenue this year, Hillsborough County could raise its own hotel tax to 6%.
That would potentially free up more funds for a new ballpark. However, until the funding model becomes clearer, it remains to be seen how much Hillsborough County would be able to leverage from that revenue source.
As the year winds down, there have been no commitments to a site. In remarks earlier this month, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred expressed some optimism that the Rays could find a solution in Tampa, but emphasized that a plan needs to emerge sooner rather than later.
At this point, there is no firm deadline attached to when the Rays will have to complete their ballpark search, but the team will likely want to answer some pressing questions during the new year.
Previously in our Top Ten Stories of 2016 List:
#10: Savannah Bananas