A looming December 31 deadline by which the Rays were required to officially announce intentions to quit Tropicana Field has intensified speculation and action toward a deal that would underpin the construction of a new stadium for the Rays in Ybor City. Today principle owner Stuart Sternberg announced the team would not be seeking to extend that deadline.
The reason: their hopes of finalizing a deal to build a new stadium in Ybor City are, for all purposes, dead.
The Rays announced their proposed site (and price tag) in July 2018. Since then there has been very limited public discussion about whether and how the county, city, business community and Rays ownership would work together to help realize this plan.
In recent months Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the nonprofit charged with generating business and civic support, has announced about $16 million a year in sponsorship commitments over the next ten years. And finally, last week, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill shared a framework for county participation in the project. In short his proposal suggested that the county and city would raise half of the expected $900 million, largely by leveraging investment through recently created federal Opportunity Zone auspices as well as projected tax increases expected in the surrounding areas.
Apparently the letter outlining their plans was forwarded to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, whose full response we have posted here.
But, according to Sternberg, progress toward identifying adequate funding for the site was anemic and there was no point in extending the effort.
Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg addressed media today regarding the proposed ballpark location in Ybor City. pic.twitter.com/Y7KamIJh2d— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) December 11, 2018
Sternberg didn’t overtly criticize either the private sector funding effort or the county proposal, but it was clear he found both wanting, as he made allusions to “other places” where advance season ticket sales or naming rights deals provided a more comfortable financial cushion.
What comes next?
Sternberg and Auld repeatedly noted that they are bound by a use agreement that keeps them in St. Petersburg until 2027. Now they are focused on where they will be playing in 2028, and given the lead time needed to identify a site and build a stadium, 2028 is actually very near indeed.
Of course the Rays can return to conversations with St. Petersburg about redeveloping the Tropicana Field site, where land is abundant and tourism tax revenues could provide a pretty nice revenue flow. But Sternberg noted that in a mid-sized market, a stadium needs to be very carefully sited.
Ybor City was favored by the Rays because it seemed like a promising location at the hub of population, business and transportation centers. St. Pete, for all its many charms, cannot make that claim.
You can find our previous reporting on the Rays Stadium Saga here.