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Rays president offers new stadium details

Mark Parker

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Rays President Brian Auld discussed the team's past, present and future with Suncoast Tiger Bay Club members at Tropicana Field Wednesday. Photos by Mark Parker.

Brian Auld, president of the Tampa Bay Rays, began his presentation by stating that he has lived in St. Petersburg longer than any other city – and would like to keep it that way.

Speaking inside a conference room at Tropicana Field Wednesday, Auld discussed the team’s past, present and future with Suncoast Tiger Bay Club members. Titled “Tampa Bay Rays: State of Play,” the presentation highlighted the ball club’s philanthropic efforts, recent success and the topic du jour: its need for a new stadium.

“Here’s what I want everyone to understand about today,” said Auld. “We remain 100% committed to Tampa Bay. Tampa and St. Pete are both great cities – better than they’ve ever been as far as I’m concerned.”

When asked what it would take to keep the Rays close to their current home, Auld succinctly said a new ballpark. He added that they have a site in Pinellas County, and Mayor Ken Welch and county officials are now working closely with the team.

“It is inappropriate for me to get into some of the confidential details of those discussions, but that’s all,” said Auld. “That’s what we need.”

Auld expressed a desire for the new stadium to integrate into the surrounding community. Referring to the Tropicana Field site, he said redeveloping 86 acres would work much better with an anchor tenant that annually brings a minimum of over a million people to the area.

While MLB teams typically play 81 games at home over a six-month season, Auld said he expects the stadium to remain open every day of the year. He added that Rays officials challenged architects to create a design that allows visitors to utilize the facility at will.

“We want you to be able to walk through it in November, when the weather’s great, and throw a frisbee around in the outfield if that’s what appeals to you,” said Auld. “If you want to sit down in one of our suites, take out your laptop and a cup of coffee and do some work on our Wi-Fi, we want that to be available to you.”

Auld added that one of the franchise’s greatest frustrations is the inability to host small community events due to the cost of opening the 32-year-old stadium. He said team officials are discussing that aspect with local leaders and residents to mitigate the issue with the next ballpark.

Tropicana Field. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

When the ‘Trop makes way for redevelopment, Auld said St. Pete would need a similar facility, with or without a major league franchise. He noted that the stadium is the only site for large graduations, conducted more Covid testing than any place in Pinellas County and often serves as a staging headquarters for first responders during emergencies.

“We believe this area is going to be so much stronger with the stadium here,” said Auld. “In the middle of a development, that is built with the community feedback that’s coming in right now, and with the community focus in mind.”

In light of the team’s attendance woes, Auld said the next stadium, which requires a roof to mitigate the summer heat and shelter from lightning, would hold fewer fans. He explained that when the Rays bring 16,000 people to the ‘Trop, it is one of the lowest draws in Major League Baseball. However, he said that is a sellout crowd for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He added that other events in Pinellas “would kill” to attract that number of people, and as baseball is “just a different kind of business,” the team must redefine what success entails. He believes a new home will bring more season ticket holders and lure new corporate sponsors.

“We can’t just go with, ‘if you build it, they will come,’” said Auld. “We need to be realistic about how many fans Tampa Bay can expect to bring to games relative to New York, Chicago or Atlanta.

“Because markets like New York get 40,000 people every night, we take a lot of heat.”

When asked if there was a stadium in Major League Baseball that team officials would like to use as a model for a new ballpark, both Auld and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, also present for the discussion, succinctly replied “San Diego.”

Located in downtown San Diego and home to the Padres, Petco Park also hosts concerts, soccer – the Rays own the Tampa Bay Rowdies – golf and rugby. According to its MLB website, the ballpark celebrates “the sea, the sky, the natural beauty, cultural diversity and unique spirit” of the region.”

While the team will never have a similar $250 million payroll, said Auld, if the Rays can add $10-$20 million with its innovative baseball operation department, they “can make that play.”

Auld relayed that the team’s transformation – both literally and figuratively, after dropping the “devil” from Devil Rays – began when Sternberg became the team’s principal owner in 2005. From the onset, the new leadership expressed that Tropicana Field was not a suitable long-term solution for the team’s stadium issues.

Tampa Bay’s quest for a new stadium, said Auld, began in earnest around 2007. Team officials identified Al Lang Stadium, just a few miles away on St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront, as a potential home.

“It was going to be paid for by the development proceeds of what we could do on this site,” added Auld. “Which, I don’t know if you’ve heard, is still under a lot of discussion about development.”

Auld emphatically stated that after spending the last 18 years building the Tampa Bay fan base and with the organization’s employees and their families planting roots in the area, there is no desire to relocate the team.

He added that the Rays’ “incredible” fans deserve a new ballpark, and the good news, he said, is that all of the various stakeholders now seem to want to make that a reality.

“For the first time – that I can remember – mayors from both sides of the bay are saying they will put their absolute best foot forward to make sure the Rays stay in this region.”

The Tampa Bay Rays face the Boston Red Sox in the 2021 playoffs. Photo by Mark Parker.

Auld said Tampa Bay’s residential and business growth is another reason for optimism. When previously discussing the “sister-city” concept of a split season with Montreal, he mentioned a lack of major corporate sponsors in the area as a hindrance.

While the clock continues to tick for a new stadium – plans must be in place before the team’s lease at the ‘Trop expires in 2027 – Auld said residents and politicians from across the region realize the value sports provide to a community. He understands there is still a long, arduous road ahead but called recognizing the area is better off with the Rays than without a “huge step forward.”

“Working together to figure out the best stadium we can build in a location that bolsters our economy, increases our tax base, catalyzes development and further cements what a wonderful region Tampa Bay is,” said Auld. “Well, at least in my opinion, it’s certainly worth all of our time, effort and attention.”

 

 

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    HAL FREEDMAN

    August 4, 2022at3:49 pm

    I’m still having difficulty understanding why any taxpayer dollars should be used to build what in effect is a “factory” for a private, for-profit entity. Let the Rays use their share of the Trop site development proceeds to build their facility. The city can give them a bargain rent, and perhaps pay for some infrastructure that will benefit all taxpayers.

  2. Avatar

    Joe Dunn

    August 4, 2022at6:16 pm

    Because that is JUST the way it works. Another city would be willing to write a check for a stadium if WE don’t build one.

  3. Avatar

    scott myers

    August 5, 2022at9:03 am

    Then the Rays should move to another city.

  4. Avatar

    Gary Martoccio

    August 5, 2022at10:04 am

    As much as I love Baseball if that happens let it be.

  5. Avatar

    BeLOWME

    August 5, 2022at11:35 am

    They may be willing but MLB WILL NOT let the Rays leave the Tamp market. Period.

  6. Avatar

    Darryl

    August 5, 2022at12:36 pm

    Any other site than Tampa would be a major mistake. People aren’t going to go to St. Pete. It’s a nightmare getting over the bridges at rush hour. Tampa would attract fans from Orlando and other areas just like the Bolts do. The Bucs also do well because they are in Tampa and they play their games on weekends when the traffic is a little bit lighter.

  7. Avatar

    John

    August 5, 2022at2:24 pm

    Common sense, you build it they will come. The fan base has diminished in St. Pete, statistics show that. Population boom is in Hillsborough and Polk County, If you want good attendance they will make up the difference in loss.

  8. Avatar

    Joseph

    August 5, 2022at3:24 pm

    Look all you who do want them here look at the last 5 season’s Thay made 2 world series appearances and 5 playoff runs making it 3 time to the final round before the world series. I’m 1,000,000% with keeping the Rays here where it all started.

  9. Avatar

    Raysfan

    August 5, 2022at4:24 pm

    Move to Montreal

  10. Avatar

    john mundella

    August 5, 2022at4:29 pm

    Always the same old thing. We want you to be able to walk through in November…we want you to be able to sit in OUR suites…in a team-controlled stadium paid for by taxpayers. This private business has already refused to agree to pay 15% of stadium costs…taxpayer funds are better spent NOT on private business expenses.

  11. Avatar

    Paul O

    August 5, 2022at4:36 pm

    The stadium just HAS to be on the Tampa Bay side closer to ybor and route 75. Doesn’t the Rays ownership understand the fan base that is up towards Orlando? There are HUGE numbers of us who would go to games if we don’t have to slog over the bridge to downtown st Pete. Nothing against St Pete folks, bit more central location benefits everybody. We don’t go to many games today because of the drive. Please please move to the east side of the bay, otherwise be doomed to 7,500 fans a night because that’s all who will go.

  12. Avatar

    Gary Mahl

    August 5, 2022at5:32 pm

    It will be very sad if the Rays leave. Don’t say just let them go..do you all realize the jobs, taxes, growth etc a team creates? The Rays have done a ton for the community..they donate a lot and a lot of time. Yes they don’t do as much as lightning owner but they have been a great partner for many. And this team since Stu took over has been different than any other..less $ but the heart n soul n character of the team n players is what I love. I’d love for them to be in Tampa..been done in St Pete..now put it in Tampa would be better n like article says.. Lightning get 16k n it’s a sellout…u are not gonna get 30-40k to hockey games..so don’t say no fan base here cuz there is and it would be a sad day for this entire community if the Rays ever left. Yes owners need to put up a lot, but the community does need some too…the entertainment, excitement, jobs etc created is for the community. The Rays are a huge asset to this area and please let’s keep them here.

  13. Avatar

    G Gower

    August 5, 2022at6:10 pm

    I go to about 30 games a year- season tickets since first season. There is nothing wrong with the stadium. No bad seats. A little quirky adds to the fun. Easy parking. Nobody doesn’t go to a game because the stadium is bad. Think Wrigley! And I think attendance is slowly increasing if you count the thousands of young people in the centerfield standing room bar. The city is growing into a 24 hour major league town with or with or without you. Its a perfect studio for televised games with great lighting and never a rain out. The thought of going to a game in the summer without air conditioning and the usual rain is ridiculous. The cost of an opening roof will never be recaptured and will probably never be opened like Huston isn’t. So the Rays don’t need a new stadium but they do need a new location more in the center of the market so no body drives more than 30-45 minutes. Personally I would take the shuttle bus to Tampa if they move there. If they can’t find another place just keep the $500,000,000? cost of new and get some better players instead which may boost attendance. (I like this team and management so just kidding about that.) I think the Trop will be paid off soon and The Rays could get a sweet lease in the middle of the best redevelopment project in the US.

  14. Avatar

    Big Mike

    August 5, 2022at8:13 pm

    Move the stadium to Plant City. If the DOT engineers make smart decisions with regard to traffic ingress/egress, Polk County residents will break and maintain attendance records!

  15. Avatar

    Jeremy

    August 5, 2022at10:44 pm

    This is such good news. St Petersburg will continue to be a great host city. Now all it needs is a beautiful stadium. This 86 acre site is going to be awesome, hopefully something like in Atlanta. Tampa people will figure it out, and if they don’t want to drive over the bridge F em. It would be nice for a light rail from Tampa and Clearwater so people had another option than driving, but that’s how it’s always been in the Bay area. And gonna mostly be funded from bed tax $ !

  16. Avatar

    Daisy

    August 6, 2022at6:49 am

    I fill the Rays coming to Tampa would bring much more people Then the St Pete area. I know I would go much more then I do now. Going over that bridge is a nightmare. You would also get much more people from Orlando area. Also if like you say keeping open are year long holding concerts and other events Tampa would definitely will bring in more people. Tampa has become like a little New York.

  17. Avatar

    Steven b

    August 6, 2022at6:52 am

    The taxpayers should not subsidize billionaires and millionaires. Pro sports teams need to pay for their own workplace. The fans should pay by ticket pricing.

  18. Avatar

    Christopher

    August 6, 2022at10:35 am

    Lee them here! Same site, new stadium like San Diego. All you whiners that say traffic is to bad to drive from Tampa is too much. Try driving to Yankee stadium, Fenway, Wrigley field, etc… You have no idea what traffic is. Stop the whining and support the team or shut up!

  19. Avatar

    R Mincin

    August 6, 2022at11:09 am

    Makes no difference what amenities you think of to dress up the surroundings, what it all boils down to is ‘Location,Location, Location!!!
    Stadium needs to be in Tampa vicinity within close proximity to I4,I75 and within reason to I275. Why,because it would not only draw a more universal base of baseball fans residing in the towns and citties surrounding Tampa but also bring in tourists who may not have ever had the opportunity to see a major league game. It definitely would help even out the travel time issue, providing we find a way to bypass the I4 diabolical. Hey,where’s that Bullet train when we could use it. Thanks,ex Gov Scott!

  20. Avatar

    Pat Carlisle

    August 6, 2022at12:05 pm

    Daryl – my wife and I took 1 hour and 15 minutes one evening to drive from downtown St. Pete to the Straz at about the same time we would be driving to rays game in Tampa. I vowed then to never attend a Rays night game if they moved to Tampa. Traffic goes both ways you know.

  21. Avatar

    Roger Graham

    August 6, 2022at12:41 pm

    No tax dollars should ever be used for private professional sports venues. The owners should bear the cost of the venue and operations then include the costs in ticket prices. This allows the minority of those spectators to pay for the priveledge.

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