The odds of the Tampa Bay Rays remaining in Florida — St. Petersburg, to be exact, though still “Tampa Bay” — got a boost this week.
On Monday, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch announced during his State of the City address that he has chosen the Rays over other suitors to redevelop Tropicana Field and the surrounding area. Via the Tampa Bay Times, here are some details:
The Rays made their pitch as part of a joint proposal to build a new, modern, 30,000-seat ballpark closer to the northeast part of the Tropicana Field site and to develop the area’s 86 acres with international real estate investment and development group Hines. In addition to a stadium, they propose building a senior living facility, 40,000 square feet of conference space as part of the ballpark space and a new Woodson African American Museum of Florida at the development’s entryway on Booker Creek. The team also would make a $10 million donation to the museum and build affordable housing elsewhere in the city.
The stadium would be financed separately. The Hines/Rays proposal offered the most money to the city for development rights with an aggressive timeline that would guarantee a new ballpark by the 2028 home opener.
On Tuesday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred praised the decision to the Tampa Bay Times:
“Thank you to Mayor Welch for reaffirming St. Petersburg’s commitment to Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays. We look forward to working with the Mayor to secure the Rays’ long-term future in Tampa Bay.”
As such, it appears MLB is good with the proposal. All along, Manfred has indicated the league wants a new ballpark for the Rays somewhere in the area, whether Tampa or St. Pete. The Rays can still negotiate with the city of Tampa and could potentially choose to move to that side of the bay, but it does seem like all roads are headed toward them remaining in the area full-time, instead of moving or further exploring the once-proposed “split” team (where they would spend a half season in Tampa Bay and a half season in Montreal).
Should this be resolved soon, and that appears to be the case, the one remaining ballpark problem would be the seemingly dire situation with the Oakland Athletics. Manfred has indicated in the past that, at some point, MLB will consider expanding to 32 teams but that it’s a priority to get these two situations resolved before fully diving in to expansion.
Tropicana Field, the Rays’ current home, has been in operation since 1990 and has housed the team since their arrival for the 1998 season. The lease runs through the 2027 season, so that’s why the target date for completion of a new ballpark is the 2028 opener. The Rays are the only current MLB team that have never hosted an All-Star Game and that’s just another reason to get a new venue.