UPDATE: The Rays unveiled their stadium plans on July 10, 2018. You can find the renderings here.
Ahead of pitchers and catchers reporting, in honor of their twentieth anniversary celebration, the Rays unveiled a new logo, some new hats, and even a new sandwich. And on Friday, after 20 years of playing baseball in a domed stadium that has been among the most disparaged in baseball, the Rays have finally announced a new stadium site.
All that stands in the way is the small problem of how to raise some $600-700 million.
Ybor City, center of Tampa’s historic cigar industry and present-day nightlife, could soon take on yet another identity as the home of our region’s major league baseball team.
The selected stadium site is 14 acres, bounded by Channelside Drive on the west, 4th Avenue on the north, 15th Street on the east, and Adamo Drive on the south, with the elevated Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway just above Adamo.
The port and Channelside district are just beyond the southern boundary but thanks to the Adamo/Crosstown corridor they are largely inaccessible. Northern and eastern edges of the site provide easy access to the street grid and attractions of Ybor City. At present the site, and its neighbors, have commercial and industrial/warehouse uses.
Hillsborough County, largely under the direction of Commissioner Ken Hagan, has reportedly offered several possible sites, but according to Hagan all but one was eliminated through negotiations. In recent months we have been hearing that the county, working through a nonprofit established for this purpose, has been acquiring purchase options for land along the southern edge of Ybor City, much of which is owned by Darryl Shaw, owner of BluePearl Veterinary Partners.
At 14 acres this site would be at the small end of ballpark sites but by no means the smallest. Target Field sits on 8.5 acres; Fenway Park on 9. A good comparison to the proposed Rays site would be Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, whose stadium site is 14.7 acres. It is plenty of space to build a stadium, doesn’t leave much space for parking and other ancillary development.
Read More: What we know about the Hillsborough County stadium site
The announcement this afternoon was made from a podium emblazoned with the words and logo for Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the name of the nonprofit that (for complicated legal reasons) had to acquire the land for a stadium site to be proposed.
Given the name of the organization, 2020 appears to be the year the Rays would target for their move, but more likely, that date is when the stadium would break ground.
When asked at today’s event, Stu Sternberg and company gave no commitment to a timeline, but the Tampa Bay Times is projecting an opening in 2022 or 2023.
Hillsborough Co. commissioner Ken Hagan opening the #Rays announcement, team owner Stuart Sternberg and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn among those behind him pic.twitter.com/ADCafBNNhd— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 9, 2018
Until the Stadium opens, the Rays will continue to play in Tropicana Field until a new stadium is built, but it’s no lame duck occupancy. The team is continuing to make multi-million dollar investments into the park to improve the environment (adding a team store in center field) and operations (introducing a new food vendor at the stadium).
So, who pays for the stadium? Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called it a “work in progress,” and without a site plan and stadium design, the full development cost projections are not known.
We do know that Atlanta’s Suntrust Park, the last MLB park to open, cost about $650 million. That seems like a reasonable starting point for (excuse the term) ballpark estimates, although a roof will likely add to any Tampa Bay area construction costs.
The Rays are on record from their last stadium proposal as saying that they will finance $150 million of any construction costs, but most observers assume that is at the low end of what they will end up spending. Even if their contribution were to double, there is still a sizable funding gap.
You can read more about our unanswered stadium questions here.
What the Rays owner had to say
#Rays Sternberg in release says Ybor location “represents the finest opportunity” for MLB “to thrive in the Tampa Bay region for generations to come.”— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 9, 2018
You can watch a video of Stu Sternberg’s full comments at the event here:
#Rays Sternberg says “this is where we want to be playing:” pic.twitter.com/CqER6OJQJ2— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 9, 2018
You can read more about the non-profit Tampa Bay 2020 initiative, and sign the grassroots petition, here:
Today is the first step towards our future.— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) February 9, 2018
➡️ https://t.co/bZi9M7dzOX pic.twitter.com/JKWA7qgjA4