The Rays are set to host a press conference this afternoon to announce that they’ve settled on a preferred site for a new ballpark, per a report from Steve Contorno, Zack Sampson and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County commissioner Ken Hagan tells Contorno that the Rays will seek to move the team from St. Petersburg to Tampa — specifically a site on the outskirts of the Ybor City neighborhood near the Channel District.
“I’m hopeful this will continue to build momentum on our effort to bring the Tampa Bay Rays to Ybor,” Hagan says, adding that an announcement on the design of a new ballpark could follow in the near future. Generally speaking, the proposed new site would seemingly be more accessible to fans in Tampa (which has a larger population than St. Petersburg) as well as those in surrounding suburbs and cities, given its proximity to public transportation and major highways, the Times trio notes.
While the upcoming announcement is a definitive step forward in what has been a seemingly interminable process for the Rays in their quest to move out of one of the sport’s most antiquated facilities, there are still numerous hurdles to clear. Notably, financing for the construction of a new stadium must still be pieced together. A corporate campaign led by local businessmen will be announced today as well, and the number of sponsors and ticket packages the Rays can generate through that endeavor will impact the expected outlay. But, a price tag on the stadium can’t be ascertained until the design is finalized, and that process is still ongoing, per the report, in part due to the cost of a roof serving as a something of a roadblock.
It also remains to be seen exactly how much Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg is willing to commit to the financing of the stadium. Contorno and his colleagues report that the county initially “scoffed” at Sternberg’s suggestion of $150MM, deeming it too small a sum considering a projected cost of upwards of $700MM in total.
The point should also be made that determining a preferred location does not guarantee that the team will eventually break ground at that site. One need not look any further than Oakland as evidence of that fact; the A’s back in September made a similar announcement, touting the Peralta Community College District in Oakland as a viable spot for a new facility and appeared poised to move forward in gaining private funding — much like the Rays are set to do now. Just three months later, though, the district’s board of trustees shocked the A’s by passing a vote to halt the negotiations with the team.
Even if the Rays avoid similar landmines, the process of finalizing the design, generating the necessary funding and navigating the logistics of a construction undertaking of this magnitude will not be a short one. Hagan says that the hope is for the financial component of the process to be sorted out before the end of 2018. The Rays would not actually be on track to play games in the new stadium until 2022 or even 2023, per the Times, and they’d still owe the city of St. Petersburg some back pay in that event for breaking a lease with Tropicana Field that currently runs through 2027 — a sum of $2-3MM annually, depending on the timing of their theoretical move to a new site.