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Local leaders celebrate new stadium deal

Mark Parker



From left: Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long, St. Petersburg City Council Chair Brandi Gabbard and Mayor Ken Welch formally announce a new stadium agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays/Hines development team Tuesday. Photos by Mark Parker.

Myriad St. Petersburg and Pinellas County officials joined their counterparts from the Tampa Bay Rays/Hines development group Tuesday to celebrate reaching an agreement 18 years in the making.

Hundreds of community stakeholders gathered behind home plate at Tropicana Field to hear the official announcement: A new $1.3 billion ballpark will anchor the 86-acre Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment and keep the Rays in St. Petersburg for the foreseeable future.

Here are some of their reactions:

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg

“I’m here today to announce a brand-new ballpark on the waterfront with the sale,” began Sternberg in jest. Once the laughter subsided, he said, “2007 is well in the past.”

“Major League Baseball is here to stay,” Sternberg added. “It has not been an easy road. While our commitment to remain in Tampa Bay has been steadfast, the journey has been a bumpy one.”

Sternberg called the city and county government’s ongoing collaboration inspirational. He said the project’s legacy would outlive many attendees and pledged to work diligently and thoughtfully to ensure the redevelopment is a source of community pride.

With the team celebrating its 25th anniversary, Sternberg noted that a generational fan base “has taken root.” He said the organization’s mission is to energize the area “through the magic of Rays baseball.”

“We are sincerely grateful to be able to do that right here,” Sternberg said. “In our home, for generations to come.”

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg promised the team was “here to stay.”

Mayor Ken Welch

Welch called the agreement a significant step toward honoring promises made by city officials to the Gas Plant community 40 years ago. He said the $6 billion redevelopment would bolster the economy, create inclusive business opportunities and serve as a “catalyst for progress in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County for decades to come.”

“As your mayor, I never doubted this day would come,” Welch, who attended church in the area, added. “First, because of my faith that was nurtured in this very place. But secondly, because I believe in our community … We are so much stronger when we can work together.”

The project includes a $50 million commitment to intentional equity initiatives. That includes $16.75 million for employment initiatives and $15 million to build affordable and workforce housing.

Welch said equitable economic development at the site was no longer a dream deferred. “This is what business and civic leaders over decades have hoped for – and this is what we will accomplish,” he said.

“This is what progress looks like.”

City Council Chair Brandi Gabbard

Gabbard noted that the city council has ensured baseball remains a critical part of St. Petersburg’s culture for over 100 years. She said council members have taken unpopular stances over the years that led to Tuesday’s announcement.

That included pausing a previous proposal process in 2021 to explore “every possible avenue” that would keep the Rays in St. Pete. “I’m proud to say – as a member of council during that time when that decision was made – I know we are here today because of it,” Gabbard added.

“The council member in me knows that this is more than just baseball,” she said. “It’s about the promises that were broken that we now have an obligation to deliver on. And it is about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to steward the largest redevelopment our city will ever see.

“The possibilities are endless, and the responsibilities are immense.”

A rendering of the Rays and Hines’ proposed new baseball stadium. Image provided.

Commission Chair Janet Long

In an interview with the Catalyst, Rays president Brian Auld credited Long for her ardent support throughout the negotiation process. Long called Pinellas County a leader in the tourism industry and said visitors want a “total experience.”

“Baseball and beaches,” she said. “We’ve got both!”

Long called herself a lifelong Rays fan and said she wanted her five grandchildren and great-grandson to grow up rooting for a local team. She also believes in Auld and fellow team president Matt Silverman.

“I told Mr. Sternberg that as long as we have him (Auld) and Matt (Silverman), we will be very successful,” Long said. “Of that, I have no doubt.”

Councilmember Copley Gerdes

In addition to expressing excitement for his 4- and 5-year-old children to have a hometown team, Gerdes said he appreciated the decades of work leading up to Tuesday’s announcement. He credited past mayors and council members, including his father, Charlie Gerdes.

His uncle, City Administrator Rob Gerdes, led negotiations on Welch’s behalf. Copley said that he sincerely thought the Rays would remain in St. Pete.

“I was very lucky to have a dad on city council that believed that St. Petersburg was the place baseball was meant to be,” Gerdes added. “I grabbed on to that idea … I knew if he believed it, then it was the right thing.”

St. Petersburg and Pinellas County officials attended Tuesday’s event en masse.



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    September 20, 2023at8:31 am

    VERY excited as a season ticket holder since day 1. NOW, there needs to be a strategic plan to improve infrastructure (beginning with dated sewar system) and some type of rail system to get people over the bridge and up & down 19 (completed BEFORE the new stadium opens). The previous mayor and county commission took the $ and hamstrung the area with the removal of traffic lanes that are the artery for getting in/out of the stadium for a bus lane that has very little use (I don’t care what “official” numbers state, it’s optics) and the bus stops have no areas to park around them. Unless you are in walking distance, would you take an Uber to a bus stop to ride a bus to return on said bus three hours later and have to call an Uber? Make Derby Lane the major hub with proximity to Gandy and Howard Frankland for parking and pick up.

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