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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Rays Nearing $1.3B Stadium Deal, Clear Path to St. Pete Commitment

  • The St. Petersburg city council gives preliminary approval to the Rays’ $1.3 billion stadium project.
  • Opposition remains surrounding the public financing planned for the ballpark.
Tampa Bay Rays

The long and winding road toward a new Rays ballpark may at last be approaching a definitive conclusion, giving the MLB club a clear and full sense of its future for the first time in nearly two decades.

The St. Petersburg, Fla., city council on Thursday preliminarily approved by a 5–3 margin a development agreement and zoning changes relating to a new Rays stadium—marking the first time that the public body has made any sort of actual vote on the club’s proposed $1.3 billion stadium and mixed-use development.

Those preliminary decisions set the stage for larger votes on the stadium financing and overall project approval that are now scheduled for next month. The Rays’ plan for the new ballpark calls for the club paying $700 million plus cost overruns, with the public sector contributing the remaining $600 million. If approved, the stadium deal would finally end years of relocation rumors and talk centered on the team’s low attendance at Tropicana Field.

Nearly nine months after the Rays first unveiled their plans to become a centerpiece of St. Petersburg’s redevelopment of its Gas Plant District, confidence within MLB is rising that formal agreements and legislative approvals are near.

“I feel a good deal of confidence that they’re going to be able to get it done,” said league commissioner Rob Manfred to the Tampa Bay Times. He was in town meeting with Rays and Cubs players Thursday as part of an annual tour to see clubs in person but did not attend the council session. 

“We think the Tampa Bay region is really important to baseball. Getting a concrete agreement with respect to what the future of the stadium is going to be is just absolutely the top of the list for us,” Manfred said.

The Rays released updated renderings late last month on the planned stadium, and they hope to break ground early next year in advance of a 2028 facility opening. 

More Hurdles to Clear

Despite that hopeful sentiment, there are still hurdles to clear before those final approvals. A new lobbying group, No Home Run, recently formed in opposition to the public financing, a move advancing a broadly rising sentiment around the country against taxpayer support of new and renovated facilities for pro teams. The group last week released results of a new poll of local voters finding 72% of respondents in favor of renegotiating the public funding.

Some St. Petersburg council members—having already pushed for greater emphasis of the city by the Rays—are also still seeking greater disclosure around the deal.

“We are making decisions based on graphs and not final documents. I cannot emphasize that more,” said council member Lisset Hanewicz, one of the three “no” votes. “It is our duty to do our due diligence and we can only do that appropriately with final documents and not being rushed through the process.”

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