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Could St. Petersburg Offer Solution for Rays?

Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays and MLB appear willing to consider St. Petersburg for a new ballpark, but are stopping short of a commitment to remain there. 

The Rays have sought for years to replace St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field with a new ballpark, only to see their proposals stall. Most recently the Rays were in discussions building a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City, but scrapped negotiations in December because of their belief that the $892-million proposal had become financially infeasible.

That was the first time the Rays had been able to seriously consider Tampa for a new ballpark, as an agreement approved by St. Petersburg officials in January 2016 gave them three years to explore the region. However, that window ended at the end of the 2018, and the Rays are locked into lease at Tropicana Field that runs through 2027.

For right now the Rays and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred are showing a willingness to consider St. Petersburg for a new ballpark. The city has previously floated the idea of building a new ballpark as part of a larger redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, and that concept could emerge as the leading option for keeping the team. However, the Rays and the city have not committed to discussing a new ballpark there or elsewhere, and team owner Stuart Sternberg cautions that any proposal to remain in St. Petersburg will likely be met with heavy scrutiny from other MLB owners. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“It’s possible they would say no,” Sternberg said. “When we were talking about Tampa, there was a good deal of pushback from the owners over the last three to five years.

“My sense is, if we were able to work out a deal with St. Petersburg, I would have to show them a real pro forma: What would it look like, how many tickets do we expect to sell, what is the season-ticket base going to look like? Because they’re going to ask how dramatically can it or will it change. I would have to do an extensive presale of everything. … That’s going to be really hard.”

Manfred, who spoke positively of the Ybor site, which was noted for being closer to the area population center as well as the Orlando market, said MLB would be open to the team staying in St. Petersburg.

“We are still committed to the region and would like to see a solution,” Manfred told the Tampa Bay Times after the quarterly owners meetings. “We think the Tampa Bay region is a major-league market. … We’re agnostic on where. We really are. Other than in the region. I liked the Tampa site. I think there’s probably places on the St. Pete side that could be completely workable as well.”

For MLB and the Rays, one of the main considerations will be the economics of any St. Petersburg ballpark proposal and whether it can boost the club’s fortunes in terms of fan and corporate support. Tampa has traditionally been seen as holding the advantage over St. Petersburg in those areas, but the full implications of any plan in St. Petersburg would not be realized unless the team and the city get into thorough discussions–be it for a new ballpark in the area surrounding Tropicana Field, or at another site.

Regardless, it could take time for the Rays to map out a solution. Hillsborough County officials continue to maintain that the Ybor City pitch is still in play, but the team would need another agreement with St. Petersburg that allows it to explore the region before attempting to resume negotiations in Tampa and neither side appears willing to consider that possibility.

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