For their effort to replace Tropicana Field with a modern new facility, the Rays have been canvassing their site options in both Pinellas County and Hillsborough County. Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, is believed to be zeroing in on the Channel District-Ybor City area as the site of a new facility.
No final decision on a preferred ballpark site has been made by the Rays, and other contenders could be in the mix, but the Channel District-Ybor City area does offer a few points of intrigue. A ballpark at this location would not only put the Rays in an urban environment, but allow additional development opportunities to take place, following the recent trend that has unfolded at major league facilities such as Atlanta’s SunTrust Park. Downtown Tampa is already undergoing a huge transformation thanks to big investments from Jeff Vinik, owner of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, both in terms of arena upgrades, business investments and real-estate development.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan is cautioning that plenty of things will need to happen for Hillsborough County to land the team, but adds that the county sees an opportunity for the area. More from The Tampa Bay Times:
The officials are narrowing in on the Channel District-Ybor City area and have approached landowners about an option agreement that would secure the rights to those parcels if the Rays chose to move.
There are still moving pieces, Hagan cautioned, but “that fits perfectly in our belief that the ballpark needs to be in an urban environment. It also aligns with many of the Ray’s guiding principles for their next ballpark.”
“Our outside counsel has repeatedly said the next step is to get site control,” Hagan said. “Once we have site control we can go public and hope to have that earnest dialogue on the location and get the community feedback on the possibilities that exist there.”
The area south and east of a roundabout off Nuccio Parkway not far from the gates of Ybor City “has received a lot of attention,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, “and I think it’s appropriate.” He wouldn’t say it was the leading site, adding there were “other potential parcels,” but said it’s walkability to downtown, space for parking and access to the TECO streetcar line are an advantage.
One factor for the Rays is apparently the current mayoral campaign in St. Petersburg, which includes incumbent Rick Kriseman as well as former mayor Rick Baker. Should Kriseman, Baker, or any other candidate in the field fail to secure at least 50 percent of the vote during the August 29 election, the top two candidates with participate in a November run-off.
Though the Rays have maintained that they have a good relationship with both Kriseman and Baker, the team apparently does not want to be seen an affecting the outcome of the election by announcing a decision by making any announcements before the election it has concluded. More from The Tampa Bay Times:
If the Rays make an announcement in a way that’s perceived to help or hurt Kriseman or Baker, it could hamper negotiations in Kriseman’s second term or Baker’s new administration.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times in July that he didn’t think the outcome of the race would affect the team’s pursuit of a new ballpark.
“We’ve worked with both the mayoral candidates in the past and we’ve had good experiences with both of them at times, so that all remains to be seen,” Sternberg said.
The team has privately told Hagan the same, noting that the agreement with St. Petersburg runs until January 2019. Even if Baker opposes the Rays leaving St. Petersburg, they don’t think he can stop it, Hagan said.
In early 2016, the City of St. Petersburg signed off on an agreement that would allow the Rays to expand their search for a new ballpark. That agreement is good for three years, before it expires in early 2019.