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Is Tampa ballpark bid gaining momentum?

Tampa Bay RaysAfter meetings with Tampa Bay Rays officials, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and city council members say they are confident they can work out a deal to lure the team across the bay–even it means sharing the Rays with Montreal.

Compare and contrast the approaches taken by the Rays and the Athletics in their pursuit of new ballparks. The Rays have quietly been meeting with Castor and City Council members about the future of the team, making it clear that Tampa is the team’s preferred destination, and that a split schedule with Montreal is still very much on the table. The focus on Tampa isn’t a surprise, and the low-key approach seems to be working–no meetings with Montreal or Nashville officials, no ham-handed attempts to play one market against another.

And while Castor and other local elected officials have laid some ground rules for any new-ballpark discussions–limited financial participation in the project is key–they are willing to talk with the team, even amenable to the idea of a split-season arrangement. From the Tampa Bay Times:

Council member John Dingfelder said his takeways from a recent meeting with team officials is that they were taking his temperature on the split-season concept with Montreal, which he has no problems with.

“It’s novel, it’s unusual. If we can build a less expensive stadium that’s not covered and then ship the team up to Montreal for the rainy season, why not?” he said.

But Dingfelder said Rays executives also seemed intent on another message: that Tampa is the only viable location for the team in the bay area.

“The point they were making was that Tampa was clearly their preferred location. After all these years, they just felt like Tampa is the viable location for the team,” Dingfelder said. “They just felt being on the Tampa side made the most sense geographically and demographically.”

Earlier this year the Rays revived the notion of an Ybor City ballpark location. That may not be the best location, for a variety of reasons. Indeed, you will likely see some officials bring up the notion of a ballpark located near or even next to Raymond James Stadium, a location with plenty of intriguing pluses (available land, easily accessible) and an underserved area ripe for economic revival. It’s not hard to imagine a mixed-use development centered on residential and retail located next to an MLB ballpark and NFL stadium that also host college football and high-profile soccer matches.

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