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Rays, St. Pete Still Planning for Post-Tropicana Field World

Tampa Bay RaysThe next seven months will be important for the Tampa Bay Rays and the city of St. Petersburg, as the team continues to plan a new Ybor City ballpark and the city looks at a future without Tropicana Field.

Seven months seems a lot of time for the Rays and St. Pete to plan, but when you’re talking developments that collectively will be into the billions, it’s not. The bigger the development the longer it takes.

For the Rays, the end of the year means the end of a three-year window giving the team the chance to negotiate for a new home, either within the Tampa Bay area or beyond. Currently the plan is for a new Ybor City ballpark, with a Tampa booster group working on land acquisition and both city and Hillsborough County officials talking about a funding plan that could conceivably involve state aid as well. There’s also no doubt the county would prefer a funding deal that includes plenty of private investment as well. With the end of the year approaching, it’s clear that expectations are being tempered and that it’s unlikely we will see a completed funding deal. From the Tampa Bay Times:

“While we are working diligently with the team and the private sector regarding the Rays new ballpark, it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached and approved by necessary legislative bodies by the end of the year,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who is spearheading the push to bring the team to Tampa.

What happens afterward is anybody’s guess.

“I have no idea. So many things are up in the air, I can’t even speculate,” said Tampa City Council member and mayoral candidate Mike Suarez, who like others on the council said he wasn’t aware of a Dec. 31 deadline or its implications.

The Rays are currently committed to play at Tropicana Field through 2027, but under the terms of the three-year window could buy out of the lease for $2 million annually. In theory, that deal could be extended.

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg has hired HKS Architects to develop a master plan for the Tropicana Field property, with the assumption that the Rays are leaving sooner rather than later and the area will be available for redevelopment. The thought is that the 85-acre site could be better used as a gateway to downtown St. Petersburg and its many attractions while also spurring additional development in the area. From WFTS:

Alan DeLisle, economic development administrator for the city, envisions the area will look a lot like Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. It’s a tech hub with university research jobs. A mixture between commercial and research. Plus for the new Tropicana Field site you can expect hotels, office space, retail and a convention space.

“We think it’s one of the best sites in the country and probably the best site in Florida,” said DeLisle.

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