We end 2018 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Ballpark Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #3: Tampa Bay Rays end their pursuit of an Ybor City ballpark.
The year 2018 was a whirlwind for the Tampa Bay Rays and their ambitions for a new ballpark. While their plans for a new facility in Tampa’s Ybor City drew considerable attention throughout much of the year, the process came to a stop when the team ended its pursuit in December.
The Rays have wanted for years to replace Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, and a 2016 agreement with St. Petersburg officials gave the team three years to explore the region for a new ballpark site. Such an arrangement effectively allowed the Rays to explore Tampa, while giving them a path to buy out a Tropicana Field lease that runs through 2027 for $2 million annually if a new ballpark outside of St. Petersburg could be secured.
After much speculation about whether a viable plan would emerge, the Rays announced in February that they were pursuing a 14-acre site north of Ybor Channel as the potential home of a new ballpark. More details emerged in July, when the Rays unveiled a concept that called for a fixed-translucent roof ballpark that would be constructed as part of an $892 million project. What was not clear at the time, however, was how the Rays and local officials planned to fund the ballpark.
Few details emerged over the next several months, leaving concerns about whether a workable plan could come together before the agreement between the Rays and St. Petersburg expired on December 31. Hillsborough County officials sought to up the urgency on the issue during the final weeks of the year, even reaching out to Major League Baseball to see if it would throw its support behind a funding framework that relied significantly on private investment.
In December, however, the Rays pulled the plug on the initiative by announcing that they were rejecting the proposal on the grounds that it was financially infeasible. Among the team’s contentions were that the funding plan was not coming together quickly enough and that too many details were not pinned down. With the Ybor City effort coming to a halt, the Rays declined to seek an extension of their deadline with St. Petersburg.
What happens from here remains to be seen. Given the time it could take for a new ballpark plan to move forward, the end of the Tropicana Field lease could be a logical target date for opening a new facility. St. Petersburg officials have previously floated the idea of building a new ballpark as part of a larger redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, though the Rays have yet to show interest in the idea. The Rays could choose to bide their time in hopes of reviving discussions in Tampa down the road, but any plan to hold off on ballpark discussions could see the organization gamble on how future economic conditions would affect negotiations. To this point, team ownership has not expressed a desire to relocate, even as groups in Portland, Montreal, and Las Vegas make noise about their desire for a new MLB team and ballpark.
Despite a considerable amount of work on the initiative, the Rays were unable to close the deal on a new Ybor City ballpark in 2018. The year is ending with plenty of questions about the team’s facility pursuit going forward, and time will tell how the process plays out.
Here’s our Top Ten of 2018 to date: