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Tampa Bay Rays hit homerun deal with new St. Petersburg stadium

The $1.3 billion estimated construction cost for the domed, air-conditioned stadium would not dip into property taxes, the city's mayor said.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — "The Rays are here to stay... finally!" — a sentiment shared by many Tuesday in St. Petersburg as a collective exhale was released in announcing a new, $1.3 billion ballpark in the downtown area.

Since the spring of 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays have been working toward a new stadium. In the more than 15 years since the initial announcement to move the team from Tropicana Field, there has been back-and-forth and uncertainty surrounding a deal between St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and the Rays. 

Talk of the team either splitting their time between St. Petersburg and Montreal, Canada, moving across the bay to Tampa, or leaving Florida altogether has lingered over the years, but nothing was ever set in stone. 

Time has steadily been running out for both the Rays and St. Pete, however — the MLB team's contract with the city is set to end in 2027. A big part of the team's future in St. Petersburg has hinged on the agreement of a new stadium. 

A glimmer of hope was sparked at the end of January when St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch announced the Gas Plant District redevelopment project would be developed based on a proposal submitted by the Rays and developer partner Hines. 

Fast forward to now — Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg confirmed during a news conference at the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg that the playoff-bound team won't be going anywhere.

"Major league baseball is here to stay," Sternberg proudly proclaimed during a presentation Tuesday. Sternberg admitted that while "the journey has been a bumpy one," the agreement between the Rays and the city and county will ensure the team stays in the Tampa Bay area for "generations to come." 

“I am so excited that the Rays are here to stay. Finally!” said Janet Long, the chair of the Pinellas County Commission, who noted this will be the largest economic development project in county history. “This project is a home run and means so much more to us than sports.”

Plans in the works

The proposal gives the Tampa Bay Rays a new state-of-the-art covered and air-conditioned ballpark with 30,000 seats, and the ability to accommodate up to 35,000 people for other events. 

Tropicana Field has consistently been one of the worst performers in terms of MLB ballpark attendance. According to ESPN figures over the past 10 years, average attendance peaked at about 19,000 fans in 2013 and is averaging about 18,000 fans for the 2023 season.

As part of the agreement, the Rays have agreed to pay more than half of the $1.3 billion ballpark and will be responsible for any cost overruns. Pinellas County and St. Petersburg are set to equally split the remaining $600 million for the ballpark. 

Welch says the $300 million will be asked from the county commission through its tourism bed tax. 

"That leaves about $300 million for the city of St. Pete. We are funding that through bonding of a number of revenue streams — none of which are property taxes — and we're doing it without any new taxes or any increase in current taxes," Welch continued.

Construction on the new ballpark is set to begin in late 2024. By Opening Day 2028, the Rays are expected to play on the brand new diamond. 

Until then, the Rays will continue to play in the existing Tropicana Field until the end of 2027, the team's current lease with the city of St. Petersburg. The public approval process by Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg is expected to get started this fall, according to the proposal. 

You can find more information on the new project here

How the new ballpark fits in the Gas Plant District redevelopment

The historic redevelopment of the Gas Plant District, an 86-acre area where Tropicana Field currently sits, is expected to invest more than $6 billion in St. Petersburg over a 20-year period, according to the city

Close to 40 years ago, the historic Gas Plant District was a thriving Black community in St. Petersburg. The community was ousted when the city made an agreement with Major League Baseball to develop the area into what is now Tropicana Field. 

Community members were promised jobs, opportunity and equitable development in the wake of their displacement. It never happened. 

Now, Welch, who grew up in the historic Gas Plant neighborhood, has promised this redevelopment will make good on those promises made to the community. This will materialize with at least a $50 million commitment to "intentional equity initiatives" that include affordable housing, employment and business support, education programs and minority and women-owned business development.

Overall, the project is supposed to have 8 million square feet of mixed-use development. If the project is fully approved as is, the development will take place over three phases. 

Credit: Tampa Bay Rays

When the Gas Plant District redevelopment project is finished, the area should include the following: 

  • 4,800 residential units
  • 1,200 affordable/workforce residential units (on and off-site)
  • 600 senior living units
  • 1,400,000 square feet of office, medical and commercial space
  • 750,000 square feet of retail
  • 750 hotel rooms
  • 100,000 square feet of entertainment space, including a concert venue to seat up to 4,000
  • 50,000 square feet of civic space, namely a new home for the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum
  • 90,000 - 100,000 square feet of conference, ballroom and meeting space
  • 14 acres of public open space
  • 14,000 parking spaces

You can watch the full presentation by the Rays and city and county leaders below or by clicking here

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