Rays to reopen search for ballpark site

Sternberg reaffirms commitment to Tampa area despite issues with proposed Ybor City location

December 11th, 2018

LAS VEGAS -- Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Tuesday he's reopening his team's long search for a new ballpark site after being unable to reach a deal with Hillsborough County on a proposed Ybor City location near downtown Tampa, Fla.

Sternberg said the Rays would not ask St. Petersburg officials for an extension of a three-year window to explore alternative sites to Tropicana Field. That window expires Dec. 31.

Instead, the team will begin anew. Sternberg emphasized that his sole focus is on keeping the Rays in the Tampa area. But the Rays' lease at Tropicana Field expires after the 2027 season.

"We'll continue to look in Tampa Bay," Sternberg said at a news conference at the Winter Meetings, "and we'll put our efforts to that. One way or another, we need to figure out a where the team is going to be in 2028, if not sooner. Ideally sooner, but absolutely by 2028."

The Rays had already pushed the proposed opening of the Ybor City site to the 2024 baseball season as negotiations aimed at reaching a financing plan dragged on. Now, with no site and no funding specifics, that timeline is off the table.

Sternberg's news conference came in the wake of Commissioner Rob Manfred writing to the Tampa Bay Sports Authority in response to a letter which outlined the $900-million Ybor City plan.

Manfred wrote that the proposal included so few specifics about financing that "it is very difficult for me to take any position at this time."

"I am puzzled by the decision to inject me publicly into the process with only 20 days remaining in the three-year negotiating period before the Rays have to provide a response to the City of St. Petersburg."

Sternberg and Rays president Brian Auld said all possibilities -- both in terms of site and financing -- are on the table. St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman has mentioned the Rays building a new ballpark at the Tropicana Field location.

Sternberg said progress had been made on the Ybor City plan, but it wasn't close to enough.

"While the momentum and progress are real, we are not close at all to a workable framework," Sternberg said. "I'm not discouraged. We don't have necessarily Plan B right now. But we're committed to getting at it, and we'll regroup right now, go back to the drawing board and, I would imagine, come the new year, try to figure things out.

"We're a pretty resourceful group and determined group, and we'll try to use all those powers we have and all the intuition and everything else you might think of to get something done in Tampa Bay."

Sternberg previously said the Rays were willing to commit around $150 million of the approximately $900 million total to the Ybor City project. He said that number was fluid depending on revenues produced by land development, ticket commitments, suites, etc. But negotiations never got that far.

The Rays had encouraged Tampa officials to see what ballpark construction had done for the surrounding neighborhoods in Washington, Denver, San Diego and other areas.

"The important thing is that I am convinced and still am convinced that it could be a great thing for the area," he said, "and I'm committed to getting something done. But obviously I can't do this alone. It's going to be a group of people on whichever side of the bay and the whole reason to get it done."