A Hillsborough County official says Tampa’s Ybor City could still be in play for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark, even if the franchise splits future seasons between Montreal and their current market.
In June, it was revealed that MLB is allowing the Rays to explore a concept that calls for the franchise to split its seasons between the Tampa Bay region and Montreal. Plenty of obstacles would have to be overcome to make the idea a reality, but discussions of the plan come as the Rays continue to deal with an uncertain facility situation.
Their effort to replace St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field was previously focused on Tampa’s Ybor City, where a proposal for a new $892-million ballpark (rendering above) was discussed throughout much of last year. The Rays ultimately walked away from negotiations in December, believing that the plan was financially unfeasible, but it appears that Hillsborough County officials are keeping the Rays in mind for Ybor City–even with the split-season possibility in play.
Under a vision discussion by Hillsborough County commissioner Ken Hagan on Wednesday, Ybor City could be targeted for future redevelopment that includes an entertainment district. At the center of this would be a small multi-use facility that hosts Rays’ home games during the Tampa Bay portion of their schedule, along with other events. More from the Tampa Bay Times:
Hagan said Wednesday that the county is still exploring the creation of an entertainment district in Ybor City, a venture that could include a small multi-use sports stadium as a potential future home for the Rays.
The Republican commissioner made the announcement during a briefing to other commissioners Wednesday, the first since principal owner Stu Sternberg shocked local leaders in June by saying his team wants to explore playing half of the season every year in Montreal.
“As a fan, I don’t like the split-season concept. However, if it provides an opportunity for Tampa to get back at the table with the team, to negotiate with the Rays, then it’s something we should consider,” Hagan said. “We need to continue to position ourselves, get ourselves in the best possible position, when we have an opportunity to speak with the team.”
Creating an entertainment district would need buy-in from local landowners to support setting up a Community Development District. It would raise revenue through property taxes and a tax on food, drink and sports tickets.
Despite last year’s collapse of negotiations, Hillsborough County has previously indicated it is not shutting the door on the notion of the Rays eventually playing in Ybor City, and this idea would offer the latest indication of their interest. However, there are still plenty of questions surrounding the idea of a new Ybor City ballpark. The Rays were previously allowed to negotiate over the Ybor City proposal because of an agreement with St. Petersburg that gave them three years to explore the region for a new ballpark, but that agreement lapsed in December without an extension. The Rays are currently playing at Tropicana Field under a lease that runs through 2027.
In addition, a lot of the financial details behind a new ballpark could ride on whether or not the split-season scenario becomes a reality. In theory, a split schedule that is built around the ideal weather conditions in each market could lower ballpark costs, mainly by resulting in more modest facilities that do not require a fixed or retractable-roof, but a ballpark built for a full home schedule would likely be more expensive. At this point, there are still plenty of unknowns regarding the Rays’ long-term facility situation, but at the very least there is still some interest politically in having Ybor City factor into the franchise’s long-term plans.
Rendering courtesy Tampa Bay Rays.
RELATED STORIES: Tropicana Field Redevelopment: Will Rays Stay or Go?; Manfred: Rays’ Split Season Pitch is Way to Keep Team in Tampa Bay; Bronfman: Rays Proposal is Key First Step to MLB Return to Montreal; New St. Petersburg Ballpark Could Factor into Rays Tampa Bay/Montreal Plan; Plenty of Obstacles to Tampa Bay/Montreal Plan; MLB: Rays Can Discuss Tampa/Montreal Split Season; Agreement Reached on Potential Montreal Ballpark Site; Vision for New Montreal MLB Ballpark: Anchor for Mixed-Use Development; Montreal Group Methodically Building Case for MLB’s Return; Political Reaction to Montreal MLB Ballpark Site: Mixed; Site Emerging for New Montreal MLB Ballpark; Report: Support High for MLB’s Return to Montreal; Quebec’s Main Parties Open to Partnering on New Montreal Ballpark