Questions are arising about the team’s December 31 deadline with St. Petersburg, but work is continuing on a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City.
The Rays have played at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field since their inaugural 1998 season, and are in the process of trying to replace it with a new ballpark in Tampa. A January 2016 decision by St. Petersburg officials gave the Rays three years to explore the region for a new ballpark, and that window is approaching its December 31 deadline. 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.
Though Rays president Brian Auld seemed to downplay concerns over the deadline last month, there have been questions about whether the Rays will make enough progress in Tampa between now and the end of the year. In St. Petersburg, mayor Rick Kriseman recently expressed doubts that officials in Tampa and Hillsborough County would piece together a deal when asked by John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times:
I asked Kriseman on Tuesday to put a number on Tampa’s odds of pulling off the Ybor stadium deal before the deadline. Initially, he pegged it at 20 percent. Later, he agreed that sounded too pessimistic.
He upped it to 25 percent.
“It’s a huge (dollar) amount that has to be put together,” Kriseman said. “And they’re doing it right in the middle of an election for a mayor in Tampa. Is the city of Tampa going to come up with money? Will Hillsborough County be expected to do it on their own? There are a lot of obstacles to this deal.”
A major variable in whether or not the proposed Ybor City ballpark will become a reality is the funding model. The fixed translucent roof ballpark is expected to be constructed as part of an $892 million public-private partnership, but the exact contributions of the parties involved–including the Rays and local government–remain unknown. Corporate support is also seen as vital to the plan, as it is not only a reason that the Rays are targeting Tampa–which has a stronger corporate base and larger population than St. Petersburg–but also because local officials will likely rely on increased tax revenue from new development to help pay off the ballpark.
In terms of backing from businesses, ballpark naming rights are one of the areas reportedly gaining traction. The group Rays 2020 has been tasked with boosting corporate support, and one of its co-founders says that two-high profile Florida-based companies are interested in ballpark naming rights. The identities of the companies were not disclosed, but their interest could amount to a contract with an annual value in the range of $5 million to $10 million. More from the Tampa Bay Times:
Tampa lawyer Ron Christaldi, co-founder of Rays 2020, declined to name the companies, but said the multi-year deal for the proposed Ybor City ballpark could be in the range of $5 to $10 million a year.
Rays president Matt Silverman issued a statement about the talks on Monday.
“From all accounts, they are working diligently on corporate support and we are very grateful,” Silverman said.
Corporate support will likely have to extend beyond naming rights and perhaps into other partnerships, ticket purchases, or–as noted earlier–development in the area surrounding the proposed ballpark site. That will factor heavily into whether the Rays are able to strike an agreement to construct in Ybor City and, while the December 31 looms with details about a prospective funding model still scant, it seems that the work to build corporate support is one of the efforts still unfolding.
As for St. Petersburg, the Tropicana Field site has been believed to be ripe for development regardless of whether the Rays depart or remain in the city. The idea of incorporating a new ballpark into the redevelopment has been floated previously, but officials are expected to pursue large-scale redevelopment of the property with or without the Rays in the mix.
Rendering courtesy Tampa Bay Rays.
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