Joe Henderson: The clock is running for the Rays to get moving on a new stadium

stu sternberg
After wasting 2 1/2 years on a silly sister city idea with Montreal, the Rays need to make things happen quickly.

The Tampa Bay Rays are one of Major League Baseball’s most innovative and forward-thinking organizations. Not only avoiding most of the travails that doom small-market clubs to mediocrity, the Rays consistently punch above their weight against the big boys.

That said, owner Stu Sternberg outsmarted himself with his cockamamie “sister city” idea with Montreal, and that has put his franchise in a pickle.

MLB formally ended Sternberg’s fantasy of a split-season relationship between Tampa Bay and that lovely Canadian city. Starting in 2028, after the Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field mercifully expires, Sternberg proposed playing the first half of future seasons somewhere in the Bay area, then hopping to Montreal for the remainder of the year’s games.

Of course, the idea was contingent on getting both communities to build stadiums for the team, and, as we know all too well, that’s a tough sell around here.

For the time being, Sternberg says he will concentrate on getting a full-season stadium somewhere in Tampa or St. Petersburg. However, he has been at that since he took over the team in 2005 and, well, he concedes area fans may have an advanced case of stadium fatigue.

What to do?

Tampa’s Ybor City is the better location, but St. Petersburg is likely more able to help pay for a new ballyard.

However, leaders in both locales know better than to give a professional sports team a blank check and a sweetheart lease. That’s the quickest way to become a “former” leader.

Throughout this process, Sternberg has been fuzzy about how much he is willing to pay for a stadium. That led to the collapse of two plans and could threaten a third if he plays the same game. But he no longer has the luxury of time. He needs to pick a spot and get serious about partnering with leaders instead of dictating to them.

Forget about getting general tax money from either side of the bay. That’s a nonstarter.

Tourist tax money?

Maybe, but the hotel and travel industry may not go along.

It’s complicated, and the Rays just wasted 2 ½ years on a silly idea.

And there is the not-insignificant issue that Sternberg has essentially trashed the area’s ability to support a team fully. Yeah, attendance is lousy, but the Trop is in a lousy location for a franchise that needs Hillsborough County fans to catch more than the occasional game.

Also, one of Sternberg’s key selling points on the split-season idea was that it gets really hot here in the summer. It also rains a lot. However, putting a fixed roof on a stadium adds millions to the cost.

Well, here’s an idea.

In 2007, the Rays proposed what came to be known as the “sailboat stadium” in St. Pete. It was an open-air ballpark but with a canvas covering that could be raised if rain was coming — kind of like an umbrella.

Well, those old blueprints are probably hanging around somewhere. Find ’em.

As far as Florida’s torturous summer heat, there are modern cooling solutions that didn’t exist in 2007. Summers are brutal in Atlanta too, but the Braves’ new stadium solved that problem with systems to keep fans comfortable.

A baseball franchise has value for the entire area, so it’s worth the effort to find a solution that works for everyone. The clock is running, and Sternberg has a lot of catching up to do.

Joe Henderson

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.


2 comments

  • Charles

    January 26, 2022 at 4:23 pm

    Henderson needs to retire/resign or go back to covering sports. (+++ on retire)
    This was a good informative post for a change

    Quite a departure from his coverage on politics which is consistently awful and always full of yellow journalism

  • Dave

    January 30, 2022 at 9:28 am

    There’s no way to put this delicately so I’ll be straight-forward: baseball is a terribly boring sport that’s always been more focused on its history than it has on its future. It’s a boomer fixation that subsequent generations have far less interest in. The millennials moving into Tampa/St. Pete aren’t coming here because of baseball and won’t care about supporting a local team. Even if they are baseball fans, they’ll be bringing allegiances from other regions – mainly the northeast.

    As stated in the article, the Sternberg has spent 3ish years trashing our market as not sufficient to support a full time baseball team. I think he’s correct, which says more about the MLB product than it does about our market.

    Are our local leaders really going to push for Tampa/St. Pete to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a business that the owner has publicly stated can’t thrive full-time in our region? Or are they going to change their tune that the market can sustain a full-time team and admit that the owner has acted in bath faith before investing hundreds of millions of dollars with said individual?

    It’s a hard pass for most of us under the age of 50.

Comments are closed.


#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704