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Manfred: Ybor City Ballpark Site is Great, But Businesses Need to Support Rays

Tampa Bay RaysMLB Commissioner Rob Manfred hailed the selection of an Ybor City ballpark site as a smart decision by the Tampa Bay Rays, but warned that business support was essential to the future of the team in the region.

Generally, reaction to the decision by the Rays to pursue an Ybor City ballpark site has been positive. And there are members of the Tampa business community already stepping up to support the Ybor City ballpark plan, acquiring the necessary land via a nonprofit.

But that’s just the start of the support needed to keep the Rays in Tampa, according to Manfred, who was in Florida yesterday at MLB’s spring training media session at Tropicana Field. Also needed: more business support as well as a ballpark funding deal that allows the Rays to turn a profit. An Ybor City ballpark site is expected to generate associated business development, creating a bridge between rapidly booming downtown Tampa and the core of Ybor City, the historic neighborhood once home to Tampa’s cigar industry and now a major entertainment center. From the Tampa Bay Times:

“I understand it’s not New York. But there are significant businesses in this community that need to be involved in the effort because it’s good for community over the long haul.”…

And two, that the deal worked out has to be favorable enough financially to the Rays — thus not cost them too much — that they can substantially increase their revenues enough to compete with their bigger-market brethren.

“It’s crucial that we get a facility here that allows the Rays to get more toward the middle of the industry in terms of their revenues,” Manfred said.

“They just have such a huge gap between where most of the clubs are and where they are that it makes it extraordinarily difficult to field a competitive team year after year. And we need to close that gap. We don’t just need a facility, we need a facility that’s good enough to close that gap.”

Indeed: putting together a funding plan will be a huge challenge. Generally, the smaller the market, the less sports teams put into facilities, and Tampa is definitely not a large market. But it’s turning into a prosperous market attracting lots of downtown investments, so there may be public sentiment for a funding plan that benefits everyone.

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