Rays finishing touches to mixed-use plans


Tampa Bay Rays stadium update September 2023 Image: Tampa Bay Rays & Hines

The playoff-bound Major League Baseball (MLB) team Tampa Bay Rays put the finishing touches recently on plans for a new 30,000-seat ballpark in St. Petersburg (City in Florida, US) as part of a huge $6.5 billion development project that includes affordable housing, retail, bars and restaurants, and a Black history museum.

‘ESPN’ stated that the above site is on the same 86-acre tract of downtown land where the Rays present home Tropicana Field now sits.

The Tampa Bay Rays are an American professional baseball team based in the Tampa Bay area. The Rays compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League East division. Since its inception, the team’s home ballpark has been the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida (US).

The 42,735-capacity Tropicana Field is a multipurpose domed stadium located in St. Petersburg, Florida, United States. The stadium has been the ballpark of the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball (MLB) since the team’s inaugural season in 1998.

‘ESPN’ quoted Brian Auld, Co-President of the Rays, as stating, “That domed, oddly tilted ballpark will be demolished once the new one is built, in time for Opening Day 2028 (the day on which professional baseball leagues begin their regular season).”

The plan, which still has some political hurdles on funding and approvals to clear, would keep the Rays in St. Petersburg for the foreseeable future despite constant talk of the team moving across the bay to Tampa, possibly to Nashville, Tennessee and even a plan to split home games with Montreal (Canada) that was shot down by the Major League Baseball (MLB).

New York (US)-based the Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball organization. One of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, the MLB comprises 30 teams, divided equally between the National League (NL) and the American League (AL), with 29 in the United States and 1 in Canada.

Averred Auld, “We’re going to be here for a very long time. We’re all really thrilled that for the first time since we started this we have a clear path to make sure the Rays stay in Tampa Bay for generations to come.”

The announcement for the new ballpark and the surrounding project was made recently at an event held on the field at Tropicana Field.

Exulted Janet Long, Chair of the Pinellas County Commission, who noted that this will be the largest economic development project in the county history, “I am so excited that the Rays are here to stay. Finally! This project is a home run and means so much more to us than sports.”

The Rays have played in St. Petersburg since their inaugural 1998 season. ‘The Trop’, as the Rays’ current home is called, is criticized for being dank, outdated and having roof support beams that are sometimes hit by fly balls. It cost $138 million when it was built in 1990 to draw a major league team to the region.

The Tampa Bay Rays Co-President Matt Silverman informed that the new ballpark will cost about $1.3 billion with roughly half of that coming from the Rays and half from the City and the County Governments. The structure will have a fixed roof in rainy and hot Florida but it will be low-profile, with doors and windows on the sides that can open to the fresh air during the cooler months.

Said Silverman, “It will have the smallest capacity in Major League Baseball. Having that roof is necessary, but you want to create intimacy.”

The Pinellas County officials say their share of the money will come from a bed tax largely funded by the visitors that can only be spent on tourist-related expenses.

The Rays (92-59, second in the American League East) recently qualified for the playoffs for the fifth straight year but have among the lowest attendance figures in baseball with an average of about 17,778 fans per home game, according to MLB.

The overall project goes beyond baseball. It has been pushed by Ken Welch, St. Petersburg’s first Black Mayor, as a way to make amends for the destruction of the historic Gas Plant District, whose mostly Black residents were forced to move in part because of the Rays’ ballpark.

Welch said in a speech earlier this year, “I saw a need to build a better path forward by prioritizing the community’s need for affordable and workforce housing both onsite and offsite.”

The Hines global development company, which is managing the project, said it will include more than 6,000 new apartments and condominiums, office space, retail space, a hotel, and a Black history museum. The goal is to break ground in the second half of 2024.

Summed up Silverman, “It’s more than just a baseball team that calls it home. The stadium question has hung over this franchise for decades. We’re creating a new neighborhood.”

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