The Tampa Bay Rays have been attempting to put together plans for a new ballpark for upwards of 16 years, and it appears the saga has finally come to a conclusion. On Tuesday, the Rays announced an agreement with St. Petersburg and Pinellas County for a new ballpark in downtown St. Petersburg, near the site of Tropicana Field.
“Major League Baseball is here to stay, right here,” Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said Tuesday (per the Tampa Bay Times).
“Today is a day of celebration for our community,” St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch added (per the Tampa Bay Times). “Excited to say our Rays are here to stay.”
Those who have been following this story for years likely have the year 2027 burned into their brains, because that’s when the lease at Tropicana Field is done and the Rays have been unable to wiggle out of that. That means the ballpark the Rays are planning to build will need to be ready for the start of the 2028 season.
Tuesday’s announcement comes about a week-and-a-half after Sternberg expressed optimism that a new ballpark deal was close and that the team is going to pay for “half or more” the expected $1.2 billion cost of the ballpark. The agreement announced Tuesday still requires approval by the city council and county commission, though no hang-ups are expected.
As for the new ballpark, it will include roughly 30,000 seats and have a fixed dome (i.e. not retractable) with artificial turf. There will be some some windows and operable walls that will open to the outside when the weather allows, as well as the requisite state of the art amenities for fans and players. Here are some renderings:
As part of the project, there will be a “transformational development” of the area that includes 4,800 residential units, commercial and retail space, a concert venue, as well as additional public space and parking areas. The Rays, similar to the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, will have a “ballpark village” outside their new stadium.
The location is notable because one of the things we heard for years about the Rays’ attendance woes was that the location in St. Petersburg was bad and they’d draw more fans on a regular basis if the new ballpark was located in Tampa. It appears redevelopment in the area might have changed the calculus.
“One of the things I’ve said multiple times is we’re in the same location as we were five years ago, but I really do feel like we’re in a different city,” Rays president Brian Auld said (via the Tampa Bay Times). “There are so many (new buildings) all across the city and all across this region that I do believe it has fundamentally changed this region’s and this city’s ability to support our team.”
The biggest takeaway here, though, is that this plan would keep the Rays in the area and silence the whispers of them permanently moving of splitting their time between Tampa Bay and Montreal. The Rays joined MLB as an expansion team in 1998, though Tropicana Field originally opened in 1990.