By departing St. Petersburg for Tampa, the Tampa Bay Rays believe that they can build a new ballpark in an accessible location with plenty of surrounding amenities.
After considerable speculation over their future, the Rays took a major step last month by announcing their intention to pursue a new Ybor City ballpark. There is still a significant amount of work in the offing to make the proposal a reality, but the Ybor City ballpark would be constructed on a 14-acre site north of Ybor Channel and open by either the 2022 or 2023 season.
Should the plan move forward, the Rays would depart Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, their home since beginning play in 1998. At an event on Thursday, Rays team president and CEO Brian Auld explained where the move to Tampa could offer the club some advantages. Along with putting the Rays in a location that is more accessible for much of the Tampa Bay region, the proposed Ybor City ballpark would also provide a unique gameday experience because of its proximity to surrounding amenities. More from TBO.com:
“The biggest difference between Tampa and St. Petersburg is that Tampa is closer to geographic center of this region,” he said, and twice as many people live and work within a 30-minute drive.
In Tampa, Auld said the Rays hope to fill a 30,000-person ballpark every night. The new location, on the western edge of Ybor City, offers connectivity to a distinctive, cultural neighborhood with a built-in entertainment district and opportunities to build more storefronts, bars, restaurants, homes and office space nearby.
In designing a new ballpark and baseball game experience, the Rays have “challenged our architects to completely throw out the old model,” Auld said.
Maybe there won’t be a box office, because most people will have tickets on their phones or “whatever is embedded into our minds.” Maybe fewer seats are in rows and more are clustered around tables. Maybe some patrons will have tickets that get them three innings behind home plate, three innings in a suite and three innings at the ballpark play area with their kids.
In St. Petersburg, there had been discussion about building a new ballpark in the area surrounding Tropicana Field, which would be torn down to clear way for redevelopment. Should the Rays depart for Ybor City, officials could still pursue a plan that leads to new development at the Tropicana Field site and connects the area to downtown St. Petersburg.
For the Rays to move, however, several steps will have to be completed, including an arrival at a firm cost estimate and an agreement among the parties involved over a funding model for the ballpark. Under an agreement previously approved by the City of St. Petersburg, the team is allowed to canvass the Tampa Bay region for a new ballpark until January 2019.