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Pro soccer could be part of new Tampa ballpark area plan

Lost in all the hubbub over a new St. Petersburg ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays is that the team continues to meet with Tampa and Hillsborough County officials over a new Tampa ballpark–and pro soccer may now be part of the mix.

We’ve been quietly reporting that even though St. Petersburg’s redevelopment plans for the Tropicana Field site involves the Rays, the team hasn’t dropped plans for an Ybor City ballpark and continues to meet regularly with Tampa and Hillsborough County officials. Those meetings were confirmed in a Tampa Bay Times story that was less about the Rays and more about the future of professional soccer in the area.

The Rays are also a player in the local pro soccer scene as owners of the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies. The Rays have also been pursuing a new home for the Rowdies, as Al Lang Stadium–the team’s former spring training home in downtown St. Pete–may be a scenic locale but an awkward one for pro soccer.

Now, with developer Darryl Shaw investing in a new USL Super League team in Tampa, the approach to a new Tampa ballpark may be changing. If you’ve been following the Rays’ effort to build a new ballpark in Ybor City, you’ve run across Darryl Shaw’s name: he’s been working with the team on assembling parcels for a new Rays ballpark on two occasions (here and here) and has been linked to an Ybor City effort. He owns 25 acres of waterfront property between Ybor City and the Florida Aquarium and is planning a mixed-use development; not surprisingly, that site has also been floated as a site for a new Rays ballpark.

And perhaps home to professional soccer as well. Shaw confirmed he’s interested in a new stadium at the site for pro soccer, both for the new women’s Super League team and perhaps the Rowdies. The combo of a new ballpark and 10,000-seat soccer facility would certainly lend value to any development Shaw has planned in Ybor City. But before that happens, Shaw is looking for a temporary home for his Super League team.

A new Rays ballpark might be involved, too:

Shaw’s dual roles also raised a question of whether the Rays and professional women’s soccer could coexist in the historic district. Or could Shaw’s ownership of the soccer team override his potential to be a landlord to a baseball team?

“No, not at all. We’ve got a really good relationship with the Rays,” Shaw told the Tampa Bay Times. “We’re looking now, truly, at a temporary solution. The Rays will figure out their solution well before we even start looking for a permanent (soccer) stadium.”

The Rays offered a similar sentiment.

“I can’t imagine it contributing in any negative way to the future of the Rays,” said team president Brian Auld.

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