With the recent intention by the Tampa Rays to move into new digs by the end of the current decade, saying goodbye to present Tropicana Field could be emotional and defining. Then again, criticism of the structure has been as challenging as correct.
Since established as a major league franchise, along with the Arizona Diamondbacks, in 1998, the Rays have called the Trop their only home. Originally built in 1990 and nearly a decade before the Rays began play, the building has been venerated and scorned. Castigated for the catwalks and a challenging playing surface, the building remained both an eyesore and a temple.
“I loved my time there,” said veteran Evan Longoria, who played 10 years for the Rays from 2008 to 2017. “There were some quirks for sure but some of that was part of the home-field advantage. That place is as good as a dome can be. The catwalks are little strange, and the organization did the best they could to make the best for the players.”
Since inception, the site of Tropicana Field has been the subject of concern. Placed in the Gas Plant district of St. Petersburg, the stadium project was criticized for displacing homes and businesses in a predominately African-American community.
Eventually, the domed structure was built on the former site of a coal gasification plant and three years prior to construction, deposits of hazardous chemicals were discovered on the site. In preparation for construction, millions of dollars were spent for removal.
Now, construction for the new stadium is not far from the present Tropicana Field. This time, an urban renewal program is planned.
In the works is a proposed $1.3 billion stadium as part of the Hines Historic Gas Plant Partnership. In cooperation with Pinellas County, the Rays will stay in St. Petersburg and venues like Tampa, Nashville, and Orlando expressed interest. Going forward, the Rays are moving not far from their present home.
“I’m excited for the city and excited for the fans,” Longoria added, who is now with the Diamondbacks. “I’m actually surprised this is being done because every year they keep saying, ‘we’re building a new stadium.’ They’ve been saying that since I was a young player there. It was time a long time ago and the fans and the team just outgrew that venue.”
Overall, the project is expected to take 20 years and cost about $6.5 billion. In addition to the ballpark, plans call for planned affordable housing and over 1,000 units for seniors. Phase I for the Gas Plant development is the new Rays home which could be ready for opening day, 2028.
Overall, the city of St Petersburg will contribute $300 million to the ballpark. The Rays will pay the remaining amount plus any additional costs.
With any move, there are always memories.
“I really enjoyed the Trop,” said reliever Ryan Thompson, who played for the Rays from 2020 to 2023, and is now with Arizona. “I think the fans probably have some issues with some things but most of it has to do with travel to the stadium. From a player standpoint, the players really don’t complain all that much. There is a good fan base for the Rays, and they deserve something bigger, nicer, newer that makes them feel more excited to go to games. They deserve that.”