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It’s back: Rays revive Ybor City ballpark plan

Tampa Bay RaysA proposal for an Ybor City ballpark is back for public discussion, as the Tampa Bay Rays are revisiting the notion of a new Tampa ballpark as relationships with St. Petersburg officials worsen.

The proposal is still conceptual and revolves around a new open-air ballpark along Channelside Drive at Adamo Drive. The team had at one time proposed a full-time home featuring a roof to address the more extreme elements of Tampa weather, but the latest plan calls for an open-air ballpark used for half the season, with the team playing the remainder of the schedule in Montreal.

It’s not that the Rays ever totally dropped a desire for a new ballpark (indeed, they were still pitching it just over a year ago before COVID-19) and have not to date played the relocation card a la Oakland. But between COVID-19, opposition from some Tampa and Hillsborough County officials, a desire to see a St. Petersburg planning process for the Tropicana Field location play out and the realization that the Tropicana Field lease must be played out through its 2027 end, talk about a new Ybor City ballpark has been quiet, to say the least.

But apparently it never went away.

And now that the Rays are closer to the end of that Tropicana Field lease, long-term planning is a thing. It is also an issue that affects all of Major League Baseball: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said discussions of expansion won’t take place until Oakland and Tampa Bay resolve their ballpark issues. With the Oakland front office now meeting with other cities about their interest in a new Athletics ballpark, one half of that roadblock is being addressed. So it’s not a surprise that quiet discussion of a new Tampa ballpark is now emerging. From the Tampa Bay Times:

Rays’ President Brian Auld met separately with multiple Hillsborough County commissioners this week and raised the specter of pursuing the split season plan in Montreal, but with an Ybor City location potentially being the Rays home in Florida, said Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp and Commissioner Kimberly Overman….

Auld, in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, said the team periodically meets with elected officials and community leaders on both sides of the bay and the sessions allow the Rays to provide direct information on the split season idea.

Still, he said, “our priority is to keep baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come, and Ybor City, with its storied baseball past, would make an outstanding home for Tampa Bay’s baseball future.”

The increased discussions of a new Ybor City ballpark comes after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called for Stuart Sternberg to sell the Rays, saying that a lawsuit brought by Rays minority investors prevented any deals to be made with the team. The lawsuit alleged Sternberg negotiated a deal for a partial move to Montreal without the input of minority owners and is maneuvering to buy their shares of the team. It asks for a jury trial and the temporary removal of Sternberg as team president. The Rays have been part of the process of St. Petersburg planning the future of the Tropicana Field site–a future that could conceivably include a new Rays ballpark–but with Kriseman’s stance, it’s hard to see the Rays continuing to consider the St. Pete location.

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