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Tampa, Hillsborough County Officials Work to Lure Rays

Tampa Bay Rays Ybor City ballpark rendering 5

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County officials and Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg were optimistic about a joint Montreal / Tampa Bay Rays franchise come 2028 after a 2 1/2-hour meeting today.

Sternberg, backed by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and other MLB owners, has floated an operating scenario where the Rays would play half of the season in Tampa Bay and the other half in Montreal, taking advantage of good weather in both locales, mitigating the need for covered ballparks. After the meeting, all sides were optimistic about a ballpark location in Tampa while at the same time playing out the Tropicana Field lease, which ends after the 2027 season.

This isn’t close to a finalized plan, and it will require buy-in from the Stephen Bronfman-led group seeking to bring MLB to Montreal. But so far there’s agreement that this operating scenario is worth pursuing. After the meeting Rays offered the following statement:

“Today, we took a meaningful step toward securing the future of Rays baseball in Tampa Bay beyond 2027. We appreciate Mayor Castor and Commissioner Hagan’s leadership and look forward to a continued dialogue with City and County stakeholders. We remain focused on the Sister City concept and unwavering in our commitment to work in partnership with the community as this process moves forward.”

From the Tampa Bay Times:

“The goal is to try and have an agreement with all three entities by the end of the year. It’s extremely aggressive. However, having gone through the last several-year exercise, I appreciate the sense of urgency and the goal of trying to reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” said [Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken ] Hagan, who led the talks with the team for the proposed $892 million stadium in Ybor City before they broke down in December 2018….

“I’m optimistic about it,” [Mayor Jane] Castor said. “The Rays want to stay in the Tampa Bay area. We want to keep them in the Tampa Bay area, and we’re going to do everything that we can with the caveat that the citizens’ appetite of paying for a stadium is about zero at this point.”

The trick will be finding a funding plan that works for all involved. A Ybor City location is back on the table, according to all involved, and there are various funding tools, such as tax-increment financing, community development districts and federal opportunity zones, that could be applied. Eliminating a roof from the equation would considerably lower the price of a new ballpark.

And, interestingly, we could see somewhat of a bidding war for the Rays. The Tropicana Field site has been positioned by St. Petersburg officials as a potential redevelopment area that could include a new Rays ballpark, and many of the financial tools available to Hillsborough County could be available to St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Both sides of the bay could step up their offers to edge Montreal out of the equations and keep the Rays full-time in Florida, a scenario acknowledged by Castor: “The focus was on the split season, but I don’t think the full season is off the table yet.”

Rendering shows a proposed Ybor City ballpark design featuring a fixed roof.

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