After a nearly two-year search, Hillsborough County officials apparently settled on a location they would like Tampa Bay Rays to entertain a possible relocation. Maybe.
As the Tampa Bay Times reports, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan identified a 14-acre site in the southern part of historic Ybor City, with the northern edge starting three blocks south of 7th Avenue. As Sports Illustrated notes, a rendering of a potential stadium at the site shows a ballpark squeezed between Channelside Drive on the west and North 15th Street on the east, with virtually no parking or surrounding attractions.
In early 2016, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman negotiated an amendment to the Rays lease with the city to allow the team to satisfy its urge to look at sites outside the city. It was a Memorandum of Understanding that needed renegotiation after the City Council rejected his first proposal.
After news broke Tuesday of a specific location, a subheadline from one local Tampa television outlet proclaimed the Rays “leaving St. Pete for Ybor City.”
“To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of this stadium site’s death is greatly exaggerated,” Kriseman quipped to reporters Wednesday during a visit to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
“We knew at some point in time that Hillsborough was going to identify a site and so it looks like they’ve done that now,” he said. “The next step for them is to put up a presentation and package together and present that to the Rays. That has not happened yet.”
“And, really, until that happens,” he added, “I don’t expect the that the Rays are going to make any decision because they want to give Hillsborough the opportunity to present their full package.”
The timing of the news was considered surprising, not only because Major League Baseball frowns on any organization making news during the World Series, but also because thoughts were a site would not be named until after next month’s St. Petersburg mayoral election.
The Rays have financially contributed to Kriseman’s re-election bid.
Former Mayor Rick Baker is bashing Kriseman for allowing the Rays to escape its lease agreement and negotiate with Hillsborough County, but Kriseman defends the move, remaining confident that the team will ultimately choose to stay in St. Petersburg.
Kriseman put all his eggs into a basket of the Rays choosing to play at a redeveloped Tropicana Field. The mayor said Wednesday he remains confident the team will ultimately choose to stay.
In a statement released after news broke about the new site, Rays President Brian Auld was decidedly neutral.
“We look forward to getting to work evaluation this option, along with those in Pinellas County including the Tropicana Field site, as a potential future home for Rays baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come,” Auld said.
Meanwhile, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is expressing enthusiasm about the possible new location.
“After many years of thoughtful discussion, this is an important step forward for Rays fans and our community,” said Chamber Chair Mike Griffin. “The Chamber looks forward to continuing its leadership on this issue as we work together to mobilize the business community’s support of Rays baseball.”