The Rays are poised to make an announcement tomorrow regarding a deal to construct a new stadium in St. Petersburg, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Not all of the details have been revealed, but Topkin relays that the new stadium will be built near Tropicana Field as part of a redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District site. It is expected to have a fixed dome roof, seat around 30,000 people and open for the 2028 season, just after the club’s lease at the Trop expires after 2027. It is believed to cost around $1.2 billion, with the exact breakdown unclear at this time. Owner Stuart Sternberg previously stated that he expected the club to pay “half or more,” with other contributions coming from St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and investors who would contribute in exchange for shares of the club.
The future home of the Rays has been an ongoing issue for years now, due to various concerns with Tropicana Field. The club has considered moving from St. Petersburg to Tampa and also toyed with a more creative plan that involved splitting the home games with Montreal, though the latter plan was eventually nixed by Major League Baseball.
The move to Tampa was seen as desirable since one of the issues with the Trop is the St. Petersburg location is less accessible. But attempts to secure financing for a stadium in Tampa never gained much traction, which is what led to the Montreal plan. Once that path was cut off and the financial situation in Tampa didn’t change, the club pivoted back to St. Petersburg.
In December of last year, the Rays issued a press release about their proposed stadium, which was said to feature “more than 5,700 multifamily units, 1.4 million square feet of office, 300,000 square feet of retail, 700 hotel rooms, 600 senior living residences, a 2,500 person entertainment venue, and various civic uses.” It went on to say that it would include “more than 850 affordable and workforce housing units on-site” as well as other features.
This plan received the approval of St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch in January, though with still many steps to come. The club had to finalize the financing with the city, the county and new investors. Though those details still aren’t publicly known, it seems they have been resolved enough that the club will be able to make an announcement of a deal tomorrow.
Staying in St. Petersburg won’t solve the location issues that the Trop had, but the new facility will hopefully be an upgrade in other ways. The Trop has been seen by many around the industry as outdated and unpleasant in terms of fan experience. There were also awkward on-field issues, with the various catwalks in the roof interfering with balls in play and leading to complex ground rules unique to that field.
It’s unclear what the future holds for the Trop, but its run as the home of the Rays will seemingly come to an end after 30 years, having been the club’s only ballpark since their first season in 1998. It was actually opened in 1990, with the area hoping to attract an expansion major league baseball franchise for 1993, but they lost out to Denver and Miami. Other sports franchises used the facility at times, including the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League, before the area was finally awarded an expansion MLB franchise.
Fans of the Rays can now look forward to a new era of the club’s history, hopeful that the new facility will be a significant upgrade over the Trop, though the location concerns will persist. This news will also be significant beyond just its impact on that club, as the potential for future expansion now seems more viable than ever before.
There hasn’t been a new expansion franchise in Major League Baseball since the Rays and Diamondbacks joined the league in 1998. The issue has come up in recent years, with various groups hoping to get new clubs into places like Nashville, Portland or Salt Lake City. Despite that strong interest, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has repeatedly stated that the Athletics and Rays needed to resolve their respective stadium situations before expansion could be considered.
The A’s seem destined to relocate to Las Vegas, with owners set to vote on their proposed plan in November. Now that the Rays seem to have a new stadium plan in place, it seems the table is set for expansion discussions to pick up in earnest. A timeline for future expansion isn’t clear, but details should continue to emerge as time goes on. New franchises will lead to extra intrigue around the league, with fans able to look forward to an expansion draft. For the owners, it will also be desirable from a financial point of view as the new clubs would have to pay to join the league, with that money dispersed among the existing teams. The Rays and Diamondbacks each paid $130MM back in 1998 but it has been suggested that the next expansion club might have to pay something closer to $2 billion, given the rise of franchise valuation in the interim.