ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., is reopening talks about the future of the Tropicana Field site where baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays play their home games.
Mayor Ken Welch said two previous proposals for the 86-acre downtown location are being scrapped with a new round of plans to be solicited beginning in mid-August. Welch, St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor, has made a priority of including such things as affordable housing and greater job opportunities along with Rays baseball.
Welch said the goal is to choose a new redevelopment plan by year’s end. The Rays’ Tropicana Field lease is up in 2027 and Welch said the new plan should envision including a stadium at the site.
“I don’t believe waiting a few months to get this right is unreasonable,” the mayor said at a news conference near Tropicana Field. “I think St. Petersburg is the best opportunity for the Rays. It’s about making sure we’ve got the right plan for where we are in 2022.”
The Rays have played at the domed, tilted Tropicana Field since their inaugural 1998 season. The site is in the former Gas Plant neighbourhood, where Black-owned businesses and homes were uprooted for the stadium’s original development and, before that, interstate highway construction. Welch said a goal is to restore some of that former neighbourhood, where his father ran a wood yard business years ago.
“It’s about rebuilding a community that was there and was dispersed,” he said, holding an axe handle from his father’s business.
Despite regular success on the field, the Rays consistently have among the lowest attendance figures in Major League Baseball. The team has looked into moving, perhaps in Tampa’s Ybor City area, and also discussed splitting the season between St. Petersburg and Montreal until MLB called a halt to that idea.
The previous bidders for the plan — developers Sugar Hill and Midtown Development — can submit new proposals under the new process, Welch said. The former mayor, Rick Kriseman, had chosen the Midtown plan just before leaving office.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in June that the Rays and Oakland Athletics need to reach new ballpark deals soon and left open the possibility of considering relocation if agreements are not struck.
“There is urgency with respect to Tampa,” Manfred said during a news conference following an owners meeting. “There needs to be a resolution in the Tampa Bay region for the Rays.”
Welch said the new redevelopment plan should bring certainty to the Rays and rebuild, to some extent, the community that was torn apart by previous projects.
“We’ve been waiting for decades,” the mayor said. “The Rays stadium question has to be answered.”
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