Major hurdle cleared for Rays’ new stadium

ST. PETERSBURG – If there are two major league teams that need a make-over, it’s the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays. In the coming years, both will play in new stadiums and continue the trend of not just building new ballparks but inventing communities.

For the A’s, they plan to relocate to Las Vegas and have drawings on the board for nearly $2 billion development and plan to move into their new digs in 2028. In the case of the Rays, the move into a proposed $1.3 billion new stadium addresses significant issues.

First and there is no question that Tropicana Field, home of the Rays since their first game in spring of 1998, is outdated and inadequate. In the greater Tampa area, there have been conversations about a new Rays’ park for the last decade and one-half.

This was interwoven with a potential franchise move out of central Florida and even dividing a home schedule with games in Montreal. Criticized for poorly constructed catwalks that dangle over part of the outfield, this feature evolved as a constant reminder of change.

“I loved my time there,” said infielder Evan Longoria, who played for the Rays from 2008 to 2017. “There are some quirks for sure, but some of that was home-field advantage. It’s definitely time for the Rays. I’m actually surprised they’re doing that because they have been saying that since I was a young player there.  It was time to move into a new facility a long time ago.”

To the community, the advent of a new baseball stadium appears superfluous. There in turn lies a greater issue.

Currently, the Rays are committed to Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. Considering a new stadium, the larger question is a previous commitment to develop the St. Petersburg Gas Plant district and understand its historic importance.

As long as the conversation persisted on a new Rays’ stadium, so have unkept promises. When Tropicana Field was built in 1990, the facility, located on 66 acres, occupied a portion of the Gas Plant district. This was an African-American population that flourished from the late 19th century until the mid-1980s and thrived as an economic engine for black entrepreneurship and community development.

In 1979, things changed rapidly, The St. Petersburg City Council voted to revitalize the area and proposed affordable housing and an industrial park. That latter would catalyze job development and job growth.

Within three years, developers offered no concrete plans for such growth and instead, promised a baseball team. Eventually, the Rays came to occupy that 66-acre lot and residents of the Gas Plant area felt betrayed and deceived. As a result, many were displaced, and the future of the area became uncertain.

Fast forward.

In delivering his “State of the City” address Tuesday, St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welsh committed to the latest revitalization for the Gas Plant area. The cornerstone of a 30-year development is the new stadium for the Rays located a short distance from the present Tropicana Field. In delivering this assurance, Welsh proposed –

  • A $6 million overall investment
  • 4,800 residential housing units
  • 1,200 affordable housing units
  • 50,000 square feet of non-profit community space
  • 14 acres for parks and open space
  • Generation of $535 million in property taxes
  • 32,900 new, full-time construction jobs
  • 11,000 permanent full and part-time jobs

While politicians and bureaucrats now have their fingerprints all over the demise of Tropicana Field and a future playing site for the Rays, the players may have the final word.

“I really enjoyed the Trop,” said reliever Ryan Thompson, who pitched for the Rays from 2020 to 2023. “The fans probably have some issues with some things and most of it deals with travel to the stadium. Players don’t complain that much. There’s a good fan base out there and they deserve something that’s newer and nicer to make them more excited to go to games.”

If a proposed new stadium has been discussed for nearly two decades, the time is apparently now to move. Perhaps a greater consideration is the hour.

With the 2024 season nearly upon us, the Rays have only three years left on their present commitment to Tropicana Field and construction of a stadium, experts related, could take from just over two years to as long as three and one-half years.

FIRST LOOK OF 2024 … The Rays Fan Fest is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 17 in Tropicana Field from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are free, but fans are required to access Fan Fest and download their ticket from the MLB Ballpark app or at Admission for the event is through scanning a mobile device and parking is free.

The event features current players and coaches, home clubhouse tours, on-stage entertainment, food, and a charity yard sale.

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