The Tampa Bay Rays are regrouping in their quest for a new $450 million, 35,000-seat ballpark on waterfront property in St. Petersburg.
The deal hinged on getting voter support for the Major League Baseball team to use the waterfront property, and redeveloping the existing stadium known as Tropicana Field. The plan had become increasingly controversial and the team wanted a vote on the waterfront ballpark this November.
“The public dialogue we’ve had throughout this effort has been very encouraging, but there has not been sufficient support for the timeline that we put forth that would have resulted in a November referendum,” said Rays president Matt Silverman.
The team stopped short of saying it might look elsewhere for a home and announced the formation of a coalition of community leaders to study ways to ensure the “long-term stability and vitality” of the franchise.
“The Rays are committed to working in concert with this community group to help ensure our future here,” Silverman said.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said the Rays are “very important” to the community.
“This coalition will help determine how to enhance community support for the Rays and navigate how we move forward on a possible new stadium and the long-term success of baseball here,” Baker continued. “We came together as a community more than 20 years ago to help make baseball a reality here. It is time we upped our game to show we’re committed to professional baseball well into the future.”
The Tampa Bay Rays, formerly known as the Devil Rays, had been a perennial losing franchise, but this year the team is off to its best season yet, and as of yesterday was leading the American League’s Eastern Division.
While this was the first proposal the Rays put forth for a new stadium, their counterparts to the south — the Florida Marlins — have spent many years trying to work out a financing deal for their own ballpark. They currently play in a professional football stadium shared with the Miami Dolphins.
The team eventually said it would leave the area and began searching for localities in other states. This past February, the Marlins finally won approval for a bond-financed $525 million ballpark from the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County commissioners.
However, the fate of the project is now tied up in court. A local auto dealer, Norman Braman, filed a lawsuit challenging the financing, which is tied to several other major area projects.
The Marlins — which won the World Series in 1997 and 2003 — are currently in second place in the National League’s Eastern Division.