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Tropicana Field Redevelopment: Will Rays Stay or Go?

Tampa Bay Rays

Completing a large-scale redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site is a priority for St. Petersburg officials, but there is no clarity on whether plans will include the Tampa Bay Rays

When the then-Florida Suncoast Dome opened in 1990, it was hoped to be the eventual home of a Major League Baseball franchise and the anchor of surrounding development that would connect the 86-acre site to downtown St. Pete. An expansion team in the form of the Devil Rays began play in 1998, and the franchise’s lease with the city was made with redevelopment in mind, as it called for profits from future development of the site to be evenly split between the two parties.

However, development has never materialized, and the Rays have spent years seeking a replacement for Tropicana Field. St. Petersburg officials now want to take an aggressive approach to redeveloping the site, with a plan calling for offices, mixed-income housing, dining, hotels, retailed, a revitalized creek, and more. City officials have been leaving the door open for a new ballpark to be included in those plans, but the status of the Rays has grown more uncertain since it was revealed last month that MLB is allowing the franchise to explore the possibility of splitting future seasons between the Tampa Bay region and Montreal.

For his part, St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman believes that outstanding questions surrounding the Rays should not stop the city from moving forward with the pursuit of future development. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

Kriseman said that won’t slow him down. Next, he’ll issue a request for proposals, so companies can apply to serve as the master developer to manage the project under one vision, hopefully by the end of 2019 or early 2020, he said.

The mayor wants to break ground soon. But there’s a lot left to be worked out.

If the team stays, where would the new stadium go? The architects put a new ballpark in the northeast corner. Kriseman said if the Rays stay, team officials prefer the southeast part of the property….

“Obviously having clarity makes it easier and frees up more areas we could go after and target,” he said. “But not having that clarity does not prevent us from moving forward.”

Redeveloping the Tropicana Field site is something St. Petersburg officials have prioritized for some time, so a project of some scope could still be pursued with or without the Rays in the mix. It is going to take time, however, to determine the long-term facility plans for the franchise. The split-season scenario–which calls for new open-air ballparks in both the Tampa Bay and Montreal markets–would have plenty of hurdles to overcome to become a reality, and is likely to be discussed for some time. There are also questions about where a Tampa Bay ballpark would be built, regardless of whether it is for a split-season or full season of the Rays. The franchise is currently locked into a lease at Tropicana Field that runs through 2027 and, under the terms of the current deal, are granted “reasonable” approval of any development on the property.

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