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Rick Scott is not a fan of Stu Sternberg's idea of the Rays splitting home games with Montreal.

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Joe Henderson: COVID-19 could throw curveball to Tampa Bay Rays stadium hopes

The team wanted two stadiums — one in Tampa Bay, and one in Montreal — with plans to play a half-season in each locale. But the devastation wrought by the coronavirus could leave them with nowhere to go.

It’s starting to look like the Tampa Bay Rays badly over-played their hand in their quest for a new stadium.

They started off wanting one, then decided two would be better – one in the Bay area somewhere for a half-season, and then one in Montreal for the other half.

But how about if they get none? COVID-19 might have killed their grand plans.

The pandemic has disrupted so much around the globe that it’s difficult to keep up. And with the priority on public safety and economic recovery, it’s also safe to say no one gives a hoot if the Rays get a new stadium – here or in Montreal.

We know how the economy has been torpedoed and public confidence shaken in Florida. Well, this just in: Things are just as dicey in Montreal.

That glorious city is the epicenter of the COVID pandemic in Canada. The Guardian reported Montreal is now the seventh-deadliest city in the world, accounting for more than 64 percent of COVID-related deaths in the country.

The province of Quebec where Montreal sits also has a devastating 17 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the land.

Officials have warned that the COVID crisis could continue into next year, which can only inflict more damage here and in Montreal.

So, what does this mean for the Rays?

Probably a lot.

They are bound by their lease at Tropicana Field until the end of the 2027 season. That might seem like the distant future, but it’s not. In the context of financing and building a stadium, it’s just around the block.

When the pandemic eases, the first priority for Florida communities is rebuilding a shattered workforce. Spending one red cent of public money on a baseball team would likely be met with pitchforks and flaming torches.

So, figure at least two years, maybe three, before officials here, there, or somewhere can even broach the subject.

Tick, tick, tick …

Once talks begin again, if they do, a financing plan would have to come together almost instantly to meet the 2027 target. That never happens, especially in the post-COVID climate.

That brings me back to my original point.

Stu Sternberg took control of the then-Devil Rays in 2005 and immediately let it be known he had to have a new stadium. That was 15 years ago, and he is no closer now than he was then.

Part of the problem is the way he went about trying to get what he wanted. It just seemed like he never got serious about talking. When he finally received a three-year window to negotiate with Hillsborough County, months and months went by with basically nothing happening.

When there finally was a plan in July 2018 for an $890 million stadium in Ybor City, it was too late. Only about five months before the expiration of that negotiating window. That was hardly enough time to put any sort of financing together, especially with Sternberg clearly expecting taxpayers to foot the lion’s share of the bill.

It wasn’t long until Sternberg concocted the sister-city plan with Montreal. He declared that after 2027, there would be no full season of baseball in Tampa Bay. Take it or leave it.

But then along came COVID.

A situation we thought couldn’t get any screwier just did.

Could Sternberg have had a better stadium in Tampa by now? Probably, if he had played his cards differently. Instead, the virus could give him and the Rays a busted flush.

Who knows what post-COVID life will look like here? Or in Montreal? Or anywhere, for that matter?

Life has a way of altering priorities.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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