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Rays president: Renaming the team is a dealbreaker

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch (left) said requesting a Tampa Bay Rays name change could jeopardize a momentous redevelopment project. Rays President Brian Auld was less ambiguous. Photos by Mark Parker.

City Councilmember Gina Driscoll requested a “fair and open” discussion regarding the Tampa Bay Rays changing their name to the St. Petersburg Rays at a meeting next month. A nearly 80-minute debate ensued.

However, it didn’t take long for the two most influential people in the ongoing negotiations to build a new $1.3 billion ballpark to assert their stance on the topic at the council meeting Thursday (Dec. 14). Mayor Ken Welch said asking for the name change “would be detrimental to the progress we’ve made, if not fatal to this redevelopment effort.”

A critical aspect of the Historic Gas Plant District’s $6.5 billion redevelopment is building a replacement for Tropicana Field. The Rays and global development firm Hines partnered to transform 86 acres of prime St. Petersburg real estate.

Rays president Brain Auld left no doubt about where the baseball and development team stands regarding their brand.

“Please understand that within the context of this particular issue, there will not be a new ballpark – nor development project – if there’s a requirement to change our franchise’s name,” Auld said. “We want the Tampa Bay Rays here to stay. Of course, whether we do is ultimately in your hands and the hands of the Board of County Commissioners.”

Simultaneously released editorials from former Mayor Rick Baker and the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) in November sparked previously undiscussed debate regarding the team’s name. Some believe subsidizing a new stadium should require a permanent name change.

City officials have committed $287.5 million in tax-exempt bond issuances to build a new ballpark. Pinellas County will contribute $312.5 million in tourism tax dollars.

While Driscoll said she is not necessarily in favor of changing the name, she believes city officials “owe it to our residents” to discuss the topic. She requested the mayoral administration to have those talks with Rays/Hines officials and present a formal report to the council Jan. 4.

Welch reiterated his belief that the surrounding community is more concerned with the city providing long-promised equitable opportunities at the site than the team’s name. He also noted the Rays are paying over half of the stadium costs, something “some folks said would never happen.”

“The county, which is investing more than the city, is not calling for this change,” Welch added.

Auld said the team’s name is deliberately inclusive of a fan base that spans West Central Florida and travels to St. Petersburg to watch the Rays play. “I love this city, which is exactly why I can understand the ambitions of some for the team to change its name,” said the 20-year resident.

“It’s also why you’ve already heard about our intentions to regularly wear a St. Pete Rays uniform in our new ballpark.”

Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld (left), who called St. Petersburg his “only hometown,” and Mayor Ken Welch at the Dec. 13 Good ‘Burger Awards ceremony.

City representatives then aired extensive, sometimes fervent opinions regarding Driscoll’s proposal. Councilmember Richie Floyd said there are more pressing issues in the city, like soaring living costs and child poverty.

Floyd said he is more concerned with throwing money down a pit than the pit’s name. Councilmember Copley Gerdes agreed that they were wasting time and energy debating something that would alienate regional partners.

He also noted Baker, who spoke at the meeting, never attempted to change the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ name. “When people come to a game, they know they’re in St. Pete,” Gerdes said. “It doesn’t somehow magically escape them.”

Driscoll eventually amended her motion and removed any mention of a name change. She instead asked administrators to discuss additional ways of elevating St. Petersburg throughout the ballpark, including potentially naming it after the city.

Chair Brandi Gabbard credited Welch and Administrator Rob Gerdes for ensuring the city is “highlighted at every turn possible” since the first day of negotiations. She also expressed disbelief that city officials could ascertain additional opportunities after the holiday break.

Driscoll pushed back against the criticism. She also threatened to vote against an agreement if administrators stonewall a now-nonspecific request she made on behalf of constituents.

“I already have issues with some of the financial aspects of this deal,” said Driscoll, her voice rising. “This is not how you get me to ‘yes,’ I can’t make it any clearer than that. All I’m asking is for the conversation.”

The council voted 6-2 for administrators to discuss various options that could assist in elevating St. Petersburg’s brand as part of a stadium agreement. Chair Brandi Gabbard and Vice Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders dissented.

 

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Tony

    January 3, 2024at1:18 pm

    Must have missed the part where the Rays president, said a requiment to change the name would end all of it.

  2. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    December 17, 2023at5:50 pm

    The only person who wins in this deal is the Rays owner.

  3. Avatar

    John Donovan

    December 17, 2023at1:54 pm

    Renaming to St Petersburg Rays would be worth a very large amount of branding $$$s to St. Pete / Clearwater tourism. And to the city of St Petersburg. Pinellas County contribution is based on hotel tax revenue and the city of St Petersburg sales tax revenue and general economic benefit. City Council needs to SUMMON THE COURAGE to insist that this highly relevant and valuable requirement to rename the Rays is necessary before we take on the responsibility for $300mm in bonds. And Pinellas County will be pleased to see this support to their investment. Everyone wins!

  4. Avatar

    John Donovan

    December 17, 2023at1:37 pm

    The name change would mean little to nothing to Rays financially. And with zero effect to game attendance. If I’m wrong then the Bucs and Lightning are missing out somehow by excluding St Petersburg from their naming. Is Tampa International Airport prepared to rename to “Tampa Bay”. Heck no! Civic pride in Tampa would NEVER allow it.

  5. Avatar

    Danny E White

    December 16, 2023at4:42 pm

    So what next? Will there also be a call to rename the team ‘The Pinellas County Rays?’ Tampa Bay refers to the REGION as there is no such place as Tampa Bay, FL. They are The Tampa Bay Rays based in St.Petersburg, FL. Simple. The name change would incur unnecessary costs in re-branding as well. Team President Mr. Auld has emphatically delivered their position on this time-wasting initiative: NO!

  6. Avatar

    Hugh Hazeltine

    December 16, 2023at6:43 am

    Issuing a bond to fund this deal has not yet been presented to city council. It will require 5 of 8 votes to allow it to
    proceed or a simple majority of those council persons in attendance.

  7. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    December 15, 2023at4:57 pm

    What Gina Driscoll and the rest of City Council owe St. Pete residents is to kill this horrible deal.

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