Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise the Tampa Bay Rays have unveiled plans for a new ballpark in Tampa, as it seeks a move from the stadium it has called home since the team’s inception.
The Rays have played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg since debuting in 1998. However, St. Petersburg granted the franchise permission to seek out new locations for a ballpark two years ago and the Rays have now settled on Ybor City, a historic Latin neighbourhood near downtown Tampa.
“Ybor City is authentically Tampa Bay,” Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said, according to the Tampa Bay Times newspaper. “It represents the finest opportunity for Major League Baseball to thrive in this region for generations to come. This is where we want to be playing baseball.”
In theory, the Rays could move within five years, but plans unveiled on Friday are still at an early stage. Detailed talks have not yet taken place on how the cost of the ballpark, which could come with a price tag of more than $700m (€572.4m), would be split. Sternberg said the team would contribute “a good amount of money” toward a financing agreement, but declined to offer specifics.
Under the terms of its agreement with St. Petersburg, the Rays have until the end of the year to secure a new home. The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field expires in 2027. If the Rays leave before the end of 2022, the Times said the team is liable to pay the city $3m a year for the remainder of the contract, with this figure dropping to $2m per year after that.
The Tampa Bay Rays 2020 campaign has also been launched in an effort to demonstrate that Ybor City could sustain a new ballpark and convince MLB of the merits of the Rays relocating.
“They've created an organisation that will play an integral role in identifying and securing the corporate sponsorships and community support necessary for a Rays ballpark,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has campaigned for the move to Tampa, said, according to MLB.com.
“This is a critically important element, because in St. Pete, ticket sales and corporate support have lacked. I'm confident that will not be the case in Tampa.”