Joe Henderson: Can a new Rays stadium work in St. Pete when it never has? Sure it can.

tropicana field
In the game of 'where should a Rays stadium go' remember Watergate and follow the money.

If the Tampa Bay Rays eventually stay in St. Petersburg — which appears likely, let’s be honest — it’s not ideal. A new stadium possibly located near Tropicana Field does nothing to put the team in the center of the sprawling Bay area market.

That’s been the problem all along. Hillsborough County fans have proven they won’t make a weeknight trek to the Trop, at least not in sufficient numbers to make a difference in the Rays’ chronically poor attendance.

But it may not matter.

During an announcement about plans for the Trop site, St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch said that potential developers should include how they can accommodate a Rays stadium.

Welch wouldn’t do that unless the Rays signaled that, hey, St. Pete works for us after all!

So, you may ask, why would the Rays have any interest in finding a new home close to the one they’ve been trying for nearly two decades to leave? To answer that, we go back to the Watergate bromide: Follow the money.

You’ll find a lot more of it in St. Pete.

The Rays might be a partner in developing the current Trop site. If so, that’s potentially worth a boatload of cash. It would more than allay misgivings they have about accessibility to the entire market.

St. Petersburg and Pinellas County in 2021 generated $73.2 million from tourist taxes. Hillsborough brought in $36.9 million during the same period, and most of that supports other county priorities. What’s left over wouldn’t come close to being part of a stadium plan.

As Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen told me, “If you’re aware of a source of money for a stadium, I’d like to know where it is.”

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He added, “There has been no real movement (in Hillsborough) that I’m aware of (for a stadium).”

Besides, the transportation needs are so pressing that the County Commission placed a one-cent sales tax hike on the November ballot to address the problems.

So, is it folly to believe St. Pete works as a long-term home for the Rays when it never has?

In 2013, for instance, Rays owner Stu Sternberg said, “Major League Baseball at this point no longer believes in the Tampa Bay area.”

He sang a different tune in January after Major League Baseball torpedoed his daffy plan to split future seasons between here and Montreal. On that day, he declared, “Our goal is — and always has been — for the Rays to thrive here in Tampa Bay, today and in future generations.”

It could happen.

The St. Pete of today has almost no resemblance to the one from 1998 when the Rays started playing. It’s a bustling, growing, dynamic city. Construction is seemingly everywhere, and new businesses are relocating to this Gulf Coast jewel.

They’ll still need more fans from Hillsborough, so why not apply some of the Rays’ legendary out-of-the-box thinking. How about a ferry shuttle from Tampa to downtown St. Pete for home games? Have a trolly waiting to escort fans to the ballpark.

Feel free to insert your ideas.

Fitting a stadium into an entertainment and residential center around the Trop site could be more help for the Rays than we even realize. It could be similar to the Water Street Tampa project Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is building around Amalie Arena.

That would be awesome. Part of the problem with the Trop is that long ago, Pinellas lawmakers plopped a junky stadium that was next to, well, not much. This would be a different and much better deal, which is why the Rays could be angling for a slice of whatever project replaces the Trop.

I’ve said more times than I can count that the best location for the Rays is in Hillsborough. But it looks like that can’t happen, so it’s up to St. Pete to make it work. Including the Rays in the redevelopment of the Trop could be a major step in that direction.

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.


4 comments

  • Vince

    July 1, 2022 at 4:08 am

    We need one Tampa Bay Regional Transportation District, ultimately because it would make it easier to get more frequent shuttle buses to the Trop from regional park and ride locations. The shuttle buses would all be waiting for the game to end and then all the fans that took the bus to the stadium would take the bus back to the park and ride. The route would have other stops.

  • Just a comment

    July 1, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    Yep plus you have to find spaces to bury all those people’s moving down

    • Yeah

      July 3, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      Property taxes works better .build build build

      • YYep

        July 3, 2022 at 5:46 pm

        Saint Pete the new Manhattan downtown midtown uptown and walk to walk taxi 🚖

Comments are closed.


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