This past January, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch chose the Tampa Bay Rays and their development partner, Hines, to redevelop the 86 acre site that includes Tropicana Field. Their redevelopment plan called for mixed used development phased over a number of years, with a new baseball stadium anchoring the project.
With the Rays use agreement on Tropicana Field expiring at the end of the 2027 season, one would expect there to be some urgency about getting new stadium planning and design phases underway.
A lot needs to happen before anyone turns dirt. Architectural and engineering plans, infrastructure planning and design in coordination with public agencies, and perhaps most contentious, agreements between the public and private partners about how the real estate development will be carried out, and what (if any) public funding will support the project all need to be in place.
But since the various public announcements this past winter, we’ve heard little about any progress on next steps. That does not mean, however, that nothing is happening. Instead, it likely means that all those involved are taking pains to keep details out of the public eye.
Reporters for the Tampa Bay Times have been dogged in trying to track any progress on St. Petersburg stadium planning, using whatever comments they can get from city officials, and employing public document requests to piece together progress on stadium negotiations. In this article, Coleen Wright discusses her findings that City Administrator Rob Gerdes and Mayor Welch have regular meetings for Tropicana Field updates, and that invoices have been paid to two firms the city has hired to help them with negotiations, evidence that conversations are ongoing.
Wright and her colleague Jack Evans also learned that the city and county had shared the costs of an economic impact analysis of a new stadium, no doubt part of their due diligence before committing public funding. We’ll have more to say on that in a future article.
Meanwhile, there has always been a question about whether the Rays will carry through with their plans in St. Pete, or whether a last second Hillsborough County alternative will emerge.
As St. Petersburg was finalizing their decision about the Tropicana Field redevelopment proposal, someone leaked a rendering of a stadium to be built on Ybor Channel, in Tampa, on land that had recently been acquired by developer Darryl Shaw, who has sometimes been linked to the Rays.
And just today, Fox 13 reported that County Commissioner Ken Hagan expects Hillsborough County to put forward a proposal that would indeed lead to a stadium on Ybor Channel, suggesting that conversations are in the works to build a stadium on the Shaw-acquired land abutting Ybor Channel.
Are the Hillsborough plans real, or are they a bit like Nathan Fielder’s friends, always just outside the frame, laughing? Let’s keep in mind that Ken Hagan has been the point man on previous efforts to find a Tampa site for the Rays, and he has failed to land the deal thus far, infamously squandering the last Ybor opportunity.
While the conversations between the Rays and governments on both sides of the Bay have generally been kept private, we all know the basic dilemma: downtown Tampa/Ybor is probably the best location in terms of proximity to population growth areas, to businesses, and to potential train connections in the future, but Hillsborough County is unlikely to offer much in the way of public dollars. Meanwhile, although Pinellas County and St. Pete’s populations are stagnant, and with fewer nearby businesses that would buy sponsorships and luxury suites, the city and county officials have seemed far more willing to tap into local resources, and far have more resources available in terms of public funds.
So is more news on the way? Surely, don’t let the silence fool you. In the next two to three months we should have a better idea of where the Rays will play in 2028.