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Rays Stadium Search: What’s the hold up in Tampa Park?

The Rays may have a perfect location, so what’s getting in the way?

The Rays stadium search has long circled around the dream of building in downtown Tampa, with possible water and city skyline views. The downtown core, however, is densely packed, but looking at a map (below), there just so happens to be a gap between Downtown Tampa (orange box) and Ybor City (blue box) that begs for revitalization.

This area (the red box below) is designated by the city as Central Park, but more commonly referred to as Tampa Park, which is the name for the low-income housing complex between 7th and Nuccio Parkway in this area, and it’s there the Rays may be focusing their search for a new stadium.

Why here exactly?

Any stadium site closer to downtown is not an option.

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his partners (like Bill Gates) have modeled a master plan to revitalize downtown Tampa’s waterfront between the Convention Center and the Florida Aquarium, doubling the financial district, while the physical land on the east channel is needed to keep the cruise and shipping industries in operation.

There’s not a spot for the Rays in the central business district (near Tampa City Hall or the Hillsborough County Center), nor, for that matter, is there any sort of true nightlife in that area.

The Lightning have done well to draw numbers to the Amalie Arena, but the real nightlife downtown is over in the historic district of Ybor City, a neighborhood that also has distinctive architecture and culture.

The Rays want the draw of the corporate and financial sector downtown, but they would also want access to the nightlife in Ybor City. Potentially under-utilized parcels in the gateway areas linking Downtown and Ybor make an attractive target.

The ideal location is Tampa Park

The area marked by a red box in the map above is a bit jumbled once you dig in.

Within the Tampa Park area you’ll find subsidized housing (approximated in orange below), churches (blue), schools/public land (green), and many businesses (purple).

Notably, there are two distinct subsidized residential developments in this area.

The orange box on the left is a new development called ENCORE, a mixed-income housing development that is a master planned development with the Tampa Housing Authority and private developers collaborating on several new multi-family complexes. This new development is a source of great pride for city officials.

The curved area on the right, on the other hand, is the footprint for the Tampa Park Apartments, a federally subsidized project built in the late 1960s by a local nonprofit.

The apartments are more than a bit dated by now, and interestingly, the nonprofit that owns them has expressed an interest in selling. and fortunate for the Rays, the same owner controls the shopping plaza on Nebraska Avenue as well.

The property’s shape is not ideal for a stadium, but it’s plausible that the county could target this stretch of land anyway by including the elementary school adjacent to it, and possibly the library as well, resulting in the following footprint:

This creates 38 acres of land within direct proximity to Ybor City, and all the restaurant and nightlife it has to offer (just 0.15 miles down 7th avenue), but to accomplish this several families will be displaced, an elementary school would need to be relocated, and if necessary, a public park (outlined in yellow) would require a ballot initiative to be released for sale.

The city has an appetite for additional housing in the downtown core, and new construction would be sure to offer better uses of land overall. If the city could add more housing developments like ENCORE, there may be enough mixed-income opportunities to relocate the low-income population in Tampa Park.

As we’ve discussed, the Rays would be wise to work with city and nonprofits to create alternative housing for them, whether near the stadium or elsewhere, and should likely set those wheels in motion even if County Commissioner Hagan hasn’t secured the location.

For what it’s worth, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn does not feel that relocating these families is the hold up with the Tampa Park Apartments location:

Fortunately, Buckhorn said, local officials have experience successfully moving residents out of communities — College Hill Homes, Ponce de Leon, Central Park Village and (soon) North Boulevard Homes — where old subsidized housing is to be bulldozed for new mixed-income neighborhoods.

[Tampa Bay Times]

But if relocating an elementary school and hundreds of families was not enough of a concern, there could be additional hold ups in the rest of the city block — namely some small businesses and churches on Nebraska and 7th Avenue.

Expanding to the full swath land would give the Rays an area of 46 acres and settle the stadium squarely on the main roads between downtown, Ybor, and north Tampa, and across the street from the Amtrak train station, but bringing each parcel into the fold may be proving difficult for the city to line up.

Likewise, there does not seem to be much of an appetite to relocate the elementary school, at least according to Mayor Buckhorn, from the same link above:

Buckhorn also said a stadium could probably fit on the Tampa Park Apartment property without having to move the neighboring Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

"I think it would be in everyone's best interest to avoid disrupting Booker T. Washington, given its historic nature," he said.

Despite Mayor Buckhorn’s optimism, fitting a stadium into a space 450 feet in width seems unlikely. If the elementary school is not available for a Rays stadium, it’s possible the Tampa Park Apartments are not the answer.

What about next to Tampa Park?

If you eliminated the relocation of mixed-income housing from consideration, that leaves one other area of Tampa Park viable: land already controlled by businesses.

There we can zoom in specifically on the area west of Nebraska Avenue, south of Henderson Avenue, and north of Scott Street (the northern border of the ENCORE mixed housing development):

In total, this swath of land is approximately 32.5 acres, of which 14.5 acres appears to be owned by Credit Union Insurance Services. Perhaps this is the first of two locations that’s proved hard to acquire by Ken Hagan (as quoted above), but is an area surrounded by mixed-income housing the answer to the Rays stadium search?

A recent study found, in examining the effect of stadium construction on housing through census data, that the result of a stadium is largely the displacement and gentrification of low-income areas, with nebulous effects or changes to the physical surrounding property. In other words, housing developments near a stadium tend to stay the same while the population therein is displaced.

This particular parcel of land appears to have little construction in the immediate area, which could allow several restaurants and small businesses to crop up next to this low-income area, but serious buy-in from the surrounding area would be required to make this location the neighborhood that connects Tampa and Ybor.

The area next to Tampa Park is a location ripe for development, but not by one occupant. Such city planning is a daunting and expensive task, and at the end of the day, Noah Pransky will be the first to tell you it's really about the money -- and Hillsborough's lack of it.

Obviously, if Hillsborough County had a ton of money to spend on this they would be better able to persuade private landowners to sell. But on the other hand if there were a publicly controlled site in a good location then the lack of money would be less pressing, at least when it comes to land.

Among the possible Rays stadium locations, Tampa Park appears to be the most ideal and the least expensive overall, once relocation efforts are complete.

A location is expected to be announced “soon”

For what it’s worth, the Tampa Bay Times strongly implied earlier this month that Tampa Park is indeed the location to be proposed by the city, noting:

Tampa and Hillsborough County are expected to soon announce their proposed location for a potential Rays ballpark. Local officials have zeroed in on the area between downtown and Ybor, bridging the city's nightlife hub with the proposed entertainment district offered by Vinik's planned Water Street Tampa.

“Soon” is relative for a stadium search that has taken years to get off the ground, but Tampa Park remains the preferred location.

We shall see if anything materializes in the near future, but even if a site is announced, finding the location is the easy part. Stadium financing will be something else entirely.

Read More: Why did a new Rays stadium search take so long?