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Rays Ybor City Ballpark Talks Required More Force: Sternberg

Tampa Bay Rays Ybor City ballpark rendering 7

In hindsight, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg believes he could have been more forceful in discussions over a proposed Ybor City ballpark

The Rays spent much of last year exploring a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City, where the team proposed an $892 million project that called for a fixed translucent roof facility to replace St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field. Negotiations ultimately broke down in December, with the Rays ending discussions under the belief that the plan was not financially feasible. They also did not pursue an extension of a December 31 deadline with St. Petersburg that allowed them to explore the region for a new ballpark site, and are currently committed to a Tropicana Field lease through 2027.

When looking back on the discussions, Sternberg believes that he could have made a more aggressive case for Hillsborough County officials to come up with a plan before St. Petersburg’s December 31 deadline. Despite the halt of negotiations over the Ybor City proposal, the Rays are expected to continue weighing their options for a new ballpark and will analyze the viability of remaining in St. Petersburg. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“I think I probably would have pushed Hillsborough (officials) a little bit harder sooner,’’ he said at the team’s spring training camp. “Clearly when we — and I don’t say it would have changed anything — when we saw this thing was coming to a close and coming to an end around Thanksgiving time, it sort of spurred a lot to happen after that, which was a bit too little and a bit too late.

“Maybe I should have played like this, ‘If you don’t do something now, we’re leaving (the talks)’ or something sooner, but that’s just not my style. We try to work jointly with whoever we’re working with, whether it be our players and their agents or municipalities.’’

With the window to talk about a Tampa stadium closed, the focus for the team’s search has shifted back to St. Petersburg. But Sternberg said they will need into the summer to analyze the viability of doing so and be prepared to discuss specifics with Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has been waiting for this opportunity, preferring to build on the Tropicana Field site, which is slated for a massive redevelopment with or without a new stadium. Manfred told the Times this month there could be other workable sites in St. Petersburg.

“I know the city and (Pinellas) County have some needs and have some desires with funding and with land, and our land that we’re sitting on,’’ Sternberg said. “We’re not going to stand in the way of progress, and we want to be part of it.’’

The deadline was part of a three-year window approved by St. Petersburg officials in January 2016, and it effectively allowed the Rays to make their first foray into serious discussions over a new Tampa ballpark. Tampa has long been believed to be a better fit than St. Petersburg for the Rays in terms of boosting attendance and corporate support, but ultimately the gaps between the team and Hillsborough County in negotiations over the Ybor City proposal could not be closed before the deadline.

For now, it seems that the Rays are going to explore St. Petersburg more seriously. Perhaps signs of a solution emerge in the relatively near future, but both MLB and the Rays will have to see whether the economics of a new St. Petersburg ballpark could yield a feasible outcome.

Rendering courtesy Tampa Bay Rays.

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