Oakview Group co-founder Tim Leiweke recently weighed in on the Tampa Bay Rays‘ ballpark search, saying that he believes the Rays can find success in the Tampa Bay region.
In their ongoing search to replace Tropicana Field, the Rays have reportedly been surveying their options for ballpark sites in both Pinellas County and Hillsborough County. Pinellas County includes St. Petersburg, where the team currently plays, while Hillsborough County includes downtown Tampa and the surrounding area. No official word has surfaced on what the Rays will select, but reports have indicated that the Channel District-Ybor City area in Tampa could be an option.
Leiweke was in the region recently to speak at a panel hosted by the the University of South Florida’s Vinik Sport and Entertainment Management Program. In remarking on the Rays’ situation, Leiweke noted the success of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning under owner Jeff Vinik (his younger brother Tod Leiweke is CEO of the Lightning) and Vinik’s role in the development unfolding in downtown Tampa. He also expressed his belief that, in the right location, the Rays can achieve similar success.
While it was reported that Leiweke “declined to opine on which side of Tampa Bay is best to host a baseball team,” he did outline the factors that could help the Rays and their new ballpark succeed by becoming a destination in an urban core. More from TBO.com:
“Your (hockey) arena is the greatest statement about what the Rays face,” he said. “The glass wall is facing the canal and then all of the electricity, the signs, the banners, are all on the plaza. The part that faces your city is a blank wall, cold as hell.”
The planned Water Street Tampa could change that. Vinik and his partner, Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments, have proposed a live-work-play community that will add housing, office space, restaurants, parks and hotels.
The Rays should try to tap into that, Leiweke said, and ensure their ballpark flows into that project. As it stands, the area between downtown and the rumored site is disjointed — divided by the expressway, a sea of parking lots, a Riverwalk that ends at Channelside Plaza, a gigantic flour mill and an industrial channel dotted with ship repair businesses.
“If you could just continue to figure out a way to make it walkable, make it livable, make it bikeable and make it green-friendly, you’ll turn out to be one of the wonderful points of destination in all the world,” he said. “Every snowbird in Canada will want to watch the Toronto Blue Jays when they come and play.”
In early 2016, the City of St. Petersburg approved an agreement that allowed the Rays to expand their search for a new ballpark. That agreement is good for three years, before it expires in early 2019. For their part, the Rays have previously indicated that they would like to announce their preferred site by the end of the year.
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