Back in 2019, Major League Baseball authorized the Tampa Bay Rays to pursue a plan that would involve splitting their home games between Florida and Montreal. However, just a few weeks ago, the league pulled the rug out from under those attempts. That leaves the club in a ticking clock scenario, as their lease at Tropicana Field runs through 2027, giving them until that time to figure out a different path forward.
One option that has at least been discussed is building a stadium on the land currently occupied by the Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, per a report from Colleen Wright of the Tampa Bay Times. The airport is located right on the bay, just a short drive from Tropicana Field.
As noted by Wright, the mayor of St. Petersburg, Ken Welch, recently addressed the situation on Twitter. “St. Pete is back in the game!,” he tweeted. “I was excited to meet yesterday with the Rays and County leadership. Together with our City Council and community partners, we have re-engaged with urgency to keep baseball in the Sunshine City.” The mayor sent a memo to city council members saying that he wants to study the airport site for “current and potential future community impact.” Wright also quotes Pinellas County Commission Chairperson Charlie Justice on the matter, who says, “The bottom line is, it’s good after every decade or 20 years to look and say, ‘OK, what’s happening. This is 100 acres of valuable land.'” Justice adds, “Does it make sense to keep doing it? Does it need to be changed? We are open to that opportunity.” The plan is somewhat complicated by the fact that the airport is also considering expanding, as detailed by Wright.
However, despite that acknowledgement that the airport site was considered, Justice and Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton told Wright that there was more focus on other options, such as redeveloping the Tropicana Field or Al Lang Stadium locations. The latter site has previously hosted a ballpark, serving as the spring training venue for various teams over the years, including the Rays, back in the Devil Rays days. However, in 2011, it was turned into a soccer field and is the current home of the Tampa Bay Rowdies of of the USL Championship.
It seems that all options are still in the preliminary discussions stage, which makes sense given that the sister-city plan only died fairly recently. Decisions will have to be made in the near future though, given the limited amount of time remaining on the team’s lease at Tropicana. In a recent poll of MLBTR readers, more than two thirds of voters expect the team to eventually leave the Tampa/St. Pete area.