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New Rays ballpark chatter: St. Pete back in the mix?

Tampa Bay Rays Ybor City ballpark rendering 8

With the proposed Montreal/Tampa joint tenancy dead, talk resumes on a new Rays ballpark plan–with some chatter that St. Petersburg may be back in the mix.

With Montreal out of the mix, the assumption is that if the Rays want to stay in Tampa Bay, a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark plan likely needs to include a covered facility. The focus, apparently, is still on the former KForce office site in Ybor City, a location with plenty of geographic advantages. First, a new ballpark and associated development would serve as a bridge between Ybor City, downtown and Vinikville, the trendy Channelside area.

A new covered ballpark in that area would cost $892 million, or roughly the same as what it would have cost when first proposed in 2018, according to a new analysis commissioned by the Tampa Sports Authority. That number was generated by Tampa Sports Authority consultant AECOM when they also estimated the cost of a new scaled-down open-air ballpark supporting the team in spring training and the first half of the MLB season. We’re still talking a smaller ballpark here, with some 27,000 seats, and it would not include spring training revenues, with the team likely to relocate training facilities from Charlotte County to Pasco County and throw in a MiLB team–something that’s been brought up before.

A huge issue, of course, is who would pay for a new ballpark; the Rays have previously talking about splitting the price tag with public funding, but given that the estimates are still pretty conceptual at this point, it’s not know what the Rays are thinking. From the Tampa Bay Times:

“We’re really waiting for them (Rays) to signal what the way forward is,” said Hillsborough Commissioner Harry Cohen. “To me, the end of the split-season concept put us back to square one. So I think anything that’s out there at this point is very premature.”

Tampa City Council Chair Orlando Gudes, who sits on the Sports Authority board, hasn’t seen the analyses. But he said the city faces an affordable housing crisis that, in his opinion, takes precedence over any ballpark contribution.

“The Rays ain’t my biggest issue right now,” Gudes said.

Meanwhile, there are have been quiet whispers about St. Petersburg making a play to keep the team, with the Albert Whitted Airport site potentially in play. The downtown waterfront airport has been a target of developers–as well as the Rays–for years ago. At 100 acres, it could be redeveloped as a major housing/mixed-use development, with plenty of space for a new Rays ballpark. It would take the approval of local voters to convert the commuter-plane facility for development.

With a new mayor comes a new set of priorities, and the Times is reporting new St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has promised a reevaluation of the best use of the scenic waterfront site:

Any connection to any plans from the Rays, of course, is indirect at this point, beyond just a past interest in the airport site. With potential development of the Tropicana Field site as well, Welch does gave a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make over two large urban land tracts.

The rendering is a conceptual plan and not tied to any specific proposal.

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