Redevelopment plans for the 86-acre Tropicana Field site can move forward, whether or not the Tampa Bay Rays want to continue playing at that location.
The city has two scenarios for redevelopment — one with a stadium and one without a stadium — and neither plan anticipates waiting until the Rays’ lease at the Trop ends in 2027, said Mayor Rick Kriseman, at a City Hall news conference Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the Rays announced they were scuttling plans for a potential ballpark in Ybor City.
“We’ll want to hear where their heads are when they have some time to decompress a little bit and reach out to us, but from our perspective we know there’s redevelopment we can do under either phase right away,” Kriseman said.
The framework for an Ybor stadium proposal presented at the Dec. 5 meeting of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners was short on specifics, and the team “ran out of time,” Matt Silverman, Rays president, said.
The Rays were allowed to explore options for a stadium site in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties under a three-year agreement with the city that expires Dec. 31, 2018. The team won’t seek an extension of that Memorandum of Understanding, Silverman said.
“It’s now up to us to regroup and figure out where we go from here. All options are on the table for us in Tampa Bay. We’re going to take another look at it and hopefully we will be working in partnership with both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, Tampa and St. Petersburg, to figure out what comes next,” Silverman said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Rays had not talked to Kriseman about the decision, said team president Brian Auld.
If the team did ask for an extension of the MOU, Kriseman said he’d be willing to talk about it.
“There was a reason there was a three-year period put in there. We wanted to have some certainty — certainty for our fans, certainty for the community, certainty for our city as we move forward with the idea of redeveloping the Tropicana Field site,” Kriseman said. “Having certainty helps us in moving forward with the redevelopment, so that would all have to be taken into consideration if there was a request for an extension.”
City officials have been talking up the Trop site as a place for transformational change in the downtown St. Pete landscape, describing it as “a once-in-a-generation chance to create new opportunities for growth, economic development and an enhanced community.”
Plans calls for seven to nine million square feet of private development, including a hotel, office buildings, a research and tech campus and market rate and workforce housing. A 500,000-square-foot ballpark on the site would cut the private development to 5 to 7.5 million square feet.
When he was asked what was best for the city, Kriseman didn’t answer the question directly. Instead, he said he’s long believed the best place for the Rays to be successful was the Trop site.
“I’ve always thought that site made sense for them, especially as the city continued to develop, with everything happening in the Edge District and Grand Central, along the Deuces and the Warehouse Arts district, I think it will bring 16th Street back to life again when we reconnect that area through our master planning process with either phase,” Kriseman said. “With a stadium or without a stadium. I think that site has incredible potential.”
Financing could be an issue. Hillsborough County’s preliminary proposal called for the Rays to pay 50 percent of the cost of the land and construction of the nearly $900 million stadium that was proposed for Ybor, an amount that would be much larger than the $150 million to $200 million the Rays have said they would contribute to the project.
“At this point, I haven’t had any discussions with them about financing of a stadium because up to this point in time they hadn’t indicated that they felt like the best place for their stadium was in St. Pete. If that’s what they come to now as their decision, then that’s a conversation we have to have,” Kriseman said.
A letter from Robert Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball, to an attorney representing the Tampa Sports Authority cited the lack of public and private commitments to financing the Ybor project. Kriseman was asked if that could be a potential issue if a St. Pete project were on the table.
“You probably remember when we submitted our pitch as part of the Baseball Forever plan and that was a community-driven plan,” Kriseman said. “You had members of the business community, all of whom stepped forward and said this is a team we want to have here in our city, and we want to support this team. If the Rays want to do a stadium here in St. Pete, I think those same folks would still have that same level of commitment.”
There have been suggested alternatives to the Trop site in and near St. Petersburg, including Derby Lane, the greyhound race track on Gandy Boulevard whose future is uncertain since Floridians voted to ban greyhound racing by the end of 2021.
No one has talked to Kriseman about annexing Derby Lane, the mayor said, and he’s had no discussions about the Al Lang Stadium site that the Rays wanted to redevelop a decade ago.
The Rays now have an agreement to manage Al Lang Stadium, after buying the Tampa Bay Rowdies in October.