Posted on February 9, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Tampa Bay Rays are planning a move to… well, to Tampa. Since the team’s first season in 1998, the Rays have played their home games at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Despite Tampa being in the team’s name, the stadium is not all that close to downtown Tampa. Now the Rays want to change that. On Friday, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg announced that the team intends to build a new stadium on a 14-acre piece of land in a part of Tampa known as Ybor City.
“The Ybor site was chosen through a collaborative, cooperative process with Tampa and Hillsborough County leadership,” said Sternberg at Friday’s press conference. “It represents the finest opportunity for Major League Baseball to thrive in this region for generations to come. This is where we want to be playing baseball, and the possibilities are very, very exciting to me and my organization, and to Major League Baseball, and to all of our fans.”
Friday marks the first time the Rays as an organization have acknowledged that they prefer a stadium in Tampa over their current home in St. Petersburg. Some have blamed the location of Tropicana Field for the Rays having one of the lowest attendance numbers in baseball year after year. The Trop is more than 20 miles away from most of Tampa’s neighborhoods.
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Meanwhile, Ybor City would appear to be in a more fan-friendly location. It’s just northeast of Tampa’s downtown area. It’s also a neighborhood of great history that has seen a renaissance over the last 20 or 30 years. At first glance, it’s a prime location for the Rays to build a new ballpark.
“Ybor City is authentically Tampa Bay,” says Sternberg. “It is a place with soul, and grit, with a rich, rich baseball history as well. We could not be more excited about playing a role in writing the next chapter in Ybor’s storied history by together building a next generation ballpark that integrates this vibrant and growing community.”
Sternberg believes that a new stadium will lead to a boost in revenue. In turn, that will allow the team to increase their payroll. The Rays have struggled to remain competitive in large part because of their limited payroll.
Of course, the Rays aren’t going to be able to build a new ballpark all on their own. Sternberg says that they are still working to figure out the financial side of a new ballpark. However, he says that the Rays expect to contribute “a good amount of money toward this project.”
In addition to Sternberg announcing the intention of the Rays to build a new stadium, the creation of an organization called Tampa Bay Rays 2020 was also announced on Friday. The organization will be tasked with generating support from the community and corporate partners. Fortunately, the community appears to be getting behind the idea. Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has expressed his support of the Rays building “a state-of-the-art ballpark that will transform our county.”
Obviously, Friday’s announcement is just the first step toward the Rays getting a new ballpark. With the way the Rays have struggle to attract fans to their home games, a new stadium is essential for the future of the franchise. At least right now, the Rays appear to have the kind of support and momentum they need to make a new ballpark a reality.