Rays: St. Petersburg Deadline Not a Concern in Ballpark Talks

By Zach Spedden

TAMPA (October 31, 2018) – A December 31 deadline with St. Petersburg does not appear to be a concern for the Tampa Bay Rays, who are continuing discussions about a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City.

The Rays have played at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field since their inaugural 1998 season, and are in the process of trying to replace it with a new ballpark in Tampa. An agreement approved by St. Petersburg officials in January 2016 gave the team three years to explore the region for new ballpark sites, and it is approaching its deadline. The Rays are currently committed to play at Tropicana Field through 2027, but under the terms of the three-year window could buy out of the lease for $2 million annually.

In order to move forward with their plans for a new Ybor City ballpark, the Rays and local officials have to resolve questions about how the estimated $892 project will be funded. While a public-private partnership has been widely expected, the exact shares that the parties will contribute remains unknown. Discussion about the funding still has some ways to go, but indications are that the Rays do not believe that their December 31 deadline with St. Petersburg will be an issue. On Tuesday, Rays president Brian Auld noted that the club does not see the need for an extension at this point. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“We think that there’s enough time to get done what we need to get done between now and the end of the year,” Auld said after a Tampa Downtown Partnership panel discussion on sports in the bay area.

“In our conversations with the city and the county, and the folks working on the deal from their end, they have not asked or expressed a need for an extension,” he said, “so since we don’t see one on our end, I think we’re in good shape.”

First, the Nov. 6 elections need to take place. Auld said the Rays have tried to not to be an issue in the elections while various local officials they have been working with are running for re-election.

“We’ll get to baseball in due time,” he said. Based on conversations he’s had, Auld expects Hillsborough County and Tampa officials to have a stadium financing plan ready to present soon. “It’s not going to be easy, and there’s a lot of funding sources that need to be explored. There are a lot of regulations surrounding things like Opportunity Zones that still need to be ferreted out, but I know that we’ve got a partner that is committed to keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay and understands that Ybor is the best location to do that.”

Plans for the proposed Ybor City ballpark call for it to be constructed on a 14-acre site north of Ybor Channel, and feature a fixed translucent roof. The exact scope of the funding model remains to be seen, but local officials are hoping that the ballpark can be a catalyst for development in the area.