A recent TBO article is noteworthy in the Rays Stadium Saga, as it mostly confirms what most who follow the Rays unending search for a new ballpark have suspected - there aren't easy answers to the question of where and how to build a stadium in the urbanized parts of Hillsborough County (e.g. downtown Tampa).
The article — Trouble obtaining land for Rays ballpark near downtown Tampa may push search to West Shore — starts with some finger pointing by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan:
Some landowners in the Channel District-Ybor City region — for months the focal point of the Tampa ballpark site search — are so far unmoved by offers from Hillsborough County to acquire their property. The thorny negotiations put in peril two coveted locations in that area, Hagan said, though he declined to identify the exact location of those sites.
The lack of progress has forced the county to look at another undisclosed site in West Shore, he said, the coastal community on Tampa's west side.
Could it be true that an “undisclosed” location in Westshore continues to be an option for Hillsborough County?
For all things Westshore, start with our article here. Westshore is a desirable neighborhood in Tampa, with several high end neighborhoods and popular malls nestled between the airport and the waterfront of Tampa.
It seems unlikely there would be property available in Westshore, but if there was, the search for a stadium site begins with the only green space on the map (pictured above) between I-275 and International Plaza that isn’t part of the runway for Tampa International Airport.
It’s county-owned land, and home to Jefferson High School and Roland Park School (which houses K-8), both of which would need to be relocated — an expensive endeavor sure to upset many community residents and cost something in the nine-figure range.
Certainly the 65 acres would be a viable location if it were available, offering the Rays plenty of surrounding corporate offices, multiple malls, and enough land to build their own parking garages.
The exit at Lois could be renovated into a stadium-specific exit with little disruption to I-275 or the surrounding area, and the plot of land is across the street from the planned FDOT Transportation Hub.
But given the cost of relocating schools within a district, and the old wounds from when these very schools were previously relocated to this spot, it’s more than an uphill battle for the county and the Rays.
What about the waterfront?
Another possible location, as of yet unexplored in the media, is the waterfront of Westshore — specifically, the current home of the FBI Field Office in Tampa.
The Tampa Field Office is recently constructed, less than 15 years old, at a cost of $26.6 million. Purchasing the land while relocating the FBI is a complicated idea, but a plausible one. If you include an empty lot across from the 12,000 square foot office building, as well as a handful of smaller office buildings nearby, there could be an approximately 25 site assembled.
This location would need a dedicated exit as well, but is literally in the center of the greater Tampa Bay highway system, accommodating I-275, the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the Veterans Expressway, Kennedy Boulevard, and Boy Scout/Columbus Boulevard.
It could also be designed to enhance connections to the Tampa Bay waterfront, which are somewhat limited in Tampa. No doubt the stadium would have spectacular water views, which we know, from the ill-fated 2008 downtown St. Petersburg “sail” stadium, are valued by Rays management.
One difficult aspect of this plan is that the Rays would be building their own destination, not much unlike the Braves recent construction of Suntrust Park. While the waterfront is desirable, there are no surrounding restaurants or public parking lots in walking distance. These could materialize on their own, but it’s not a natural fit.
If the Rays could incorporate the surrounding businesses, however, the location expands to approximately 69 acres to create an office building/outdoor mall complex.
The trouble would be that this area does not need a third mall, and it would take significant financial investment to turn this waterfront location into a viable spot, with little incentive from the corporate offices in that location to make it happen.
To build in Westshore requires deep pockets, and potentially risks upsetting the public. Why would the Rays aim for Westshore when metropolitan locations in Ybor or Downtown remain a possibility?
It’s an interesting thought experiment, but not much else. If anything, Commissioner Hagan calling up the Tampa Bay Times and mentioning Westshore is likely a misdirection as the Rays keep their eyes on the prize of Tampa’s downtown urban core.
What are the “two coveted locations” in that area? More on that next.
Dream big, y’all.