Rays Settle On Ybor City Area Near Downtown Tampa For Ballpark Site
Rays Owner Stu Sternberg announced Friday that the team "wants to build its next ballpark" in the Ybor City area near downtown Tampa, and if it "comes to fruition -- and it is still an 'if' -- within five years the Rays could leave St. Petersburg," according to Topkin, Danielson & Contorno of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. The chosen site has 14 acres that are "close to the vibrant, if not unwieldy, nightlife" in downtown, as well as the city’s "urban core and the burgeoning Water Street Tampa project." The selection comes two years after St. Pete "granted the team permission to look for a new home in the region." Sternberg said that the Ybor location has "been at the top of the team’s list for at least six months." There have "not been substantive negotiations" on how to pay for a ballpark that could cost more than $700M. Sternberg said that the team "would contribute 'a good amount of money' toward a financing agreement, but declined to offer specifics." He has "floated" a team contribution of $150M in the past. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city is "not going to put the burden on the taxpayers." However, it "could rely on growth in Ybor property tax collections spurred by the new ballpark." Local businessman Charles Sykes and lawyer Ron Christaldi on Friday also "unveiled another major piece of the financial equation" -- a campaign to "gin up corporate support for the team’s relocation." Dubbed "Tampa Bay Rays 2020," the goal is to "guarantee sponsorships and ticket sales and convince MLB that a team can thrive." The Rays also "still have to figure out exactly what they are going to build." One of the "major questions will be whether it has a retractable or fixed roof" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/10).
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH: The Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin said of the Ybor City location, "I don't think anyone would tell you it's the ideal location, but it's the best they could do at this point" ("High Heat," MLB Network, 2/9). But SI.com’s Tom Verducci noted of the proposed site, "Now you can tap into both Tampa and Orlando, east outward on I-4, so you’re drawing in a lot more in terms of business areas to come in and support the team.” MLB Network’s Carlos Pena added of traffic for games, "If you move it to Ybor City, you give everyone easy access” (“MLB Tonight,” MLB Net, 2/9).
STILL WORK TO DO: MLB Net’s Ken Rosenthal said of the Rays picking Ybor City, “They just feel Tampa is the place to be. It is a more central location, but they’re going to have to figure out still how to pay for this thing. The stadium could go $700 million or so. They don't expect it to open before 2022 or 2023, and they have yet to arrange any type of financing. They’re simply picking the site here. If this happens, they are going to owe some back rent to St. Petersburg because their lease doesn't expire until 2027. So, it will be $3 million a year that the Rays would owe once they leave if they do it before 2022, $2 million a year if they do it after 2022" (“Hot Stove,” MLB Net, 2/9).
IMPORTANT FOR THE REGION: Sykes & Christaldo in a special to the TAMPA BAY TIMES wrote under the header, "New Ballpark Will Keep Baseball In Tampa Bay For Generations." A new ballpark in Ybor City "would be the capstone in a movement that will complement recent progress and endure for many years." The location will "seamlessly connect vibrant downtown Tampa with historic Ybor, creating an entertainment district that rivals those in major cities across the country" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/10). In Tampa, Richard Danielson noted St. Pete has "prepared plans to redevelop the area around Tropicana Field whether the Rays stay or move." St. Pete Area Chamber of Commerce Chair Anne Drake McMullen said, "We have 86 acres of prime real estate in the middle of our urban core. What city has that opportunity? ... We’re ready to pull the trigger on that and ready to move forward. We want the Rays to stay here. That’s the bottom line. We need them to stay here, stay in our region. They’re good for us all. We’d like them to stay in St. Pete. But as long as they stay here, we’re good with that. We don’t want them to go to Canada or anywhere else" (TAMPABAY.com, 2/9).
DIFFERENT LOOK: Rays officials said that they "don't ... know exactly how their planned new stadium in Ybor City will look." The TIMES' Topkin noted execs have "what seems to be an unusual inspiration -- Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi's marble sculpture Bird in Space." Sternberg said, "That's been our guiding design." Sternberg said the team is looking for an "ultra modern" design to make the new ballpark a "minimalist, iconic, porous facility." Sternberg added that while the team will "incorporate some elements of the historic Ybor neighborhood, including the historic bricks, it seems clear the Rays will be otherwise bucking tradition." Sternberg said that "most of the people who approached him" at FanFest on Saturday were "excited about the proposed move to Tampa and that it would be more convenient" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/11).