MLB commissioner: Rays could have other stadium options

DUNEDIN — The planned redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site by the Rays-led group chosen by St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch appears to present the clearest path to ending the team’s search for a new stadium.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred even recently called Welch to encourage him about the project.

But Manfred told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that he doesn’t necessarily see the downtown St. Petersburg site as the only option to keep the team in the Tampa Bay market.

“Not really,” he said. “I think there are other possible locations that can be explored. And I remain committed to the Tampa Bay region as a solution for us.”

As excited as the Rays were when Welch picked his group (which includes global development firm Hines), team officials said at the time that they would continue discussions with Tampa officials about the potential for a stadium there. until an agreement in Saint Petersburg. It’s done. The Rays have previously expressed a preference for building on the Tampa Bay side, as Manfred has done on occasion, but have acknowledged that location is not the only factor in the decision.

There have been questions about the logic of building a new stadium adjacent to the site where the team has struggled for most of its 25 seasons to attract fans.

But at least as of now, the Tropicana Field site, also known as the Gas Plant Historic District, is the only known active option. And it may well be the only one. Manfred did not say Thursday what the “other possible locations” were or indicate anything was in the works.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred greets members of the media while attending MLB’s Spring Training Media Days Thursday at the new Player Development Complex (PDC) in Dunedin. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“I think the city’s decision is an important step forward in terms of identifying a place where a stadium could be built,” Manfred told the Times before a news briefing at the Blue Jays’ training complex. “There is a lot that still needs to be done.”

Primary is funding the stadium’s projected cost of $1.2 billion, and the plan is expected to include contributions from the team, the city and Pinellas County.

“Public funding is a big part,” Manfred said. “It’s the biggest single hurdle.”

Discussions are expected to begin soon between the team and the city on how to negotiate the terms. The Rays are pushing for a quick schedule as his current lease expires after the 2027 season.

Welch said after the Jan. 30 announcement that he wanted to negotiate a deal for the stadium first, then the rest of the 86-acre project that will include housing, hotels and entertainment venues, similar to the successful Battery area in Atlanta that the Braves have. . around your stadium.

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Rays officials said they want to work through the deals in one go before committing to the stadium, as the surrounding elements will be an essential factor in the overall project.

“I think Atlanta demonstrated that a Battery-type development can be a tremendous growth engine in a particular area, and it can be really good for a baseball club,” Manfred said. “It’s dramatically more complicated than just building a stadium.”

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, left, shares a moment with Hall of Famer and former Devil Rays third baseman Wade Boggs at the Governor's Dinner Thursday at TD Ballpark in Dunedin.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, left, shares a moment with Hall of Famer and former Devil Rays third baseman Wade Boggs at the Governor’s Dinner Thursday at TD Ballpark in Dunedin. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

While the A’s have been given permission to explore a move from Oakland to Las Vegas, Manfred reiterated that MLB considers Tampa Bay a viable site.

“I think we see the potential in the Tampa market dramatically different than what we see in Oakland,” he said.

Pursuing a large chunk of funding from Pinellas County, the Rays find themselves in an odd position of essentially competing against other major league teams. The Phillies are seeking a portion of the hotel bed tax revenue to renovate and expand their spring facility in Clearwater, as the Blue Jays recently did to upgrade their stadium and complex in Dunedin.

Manfred didn’t necessarily see a conflict.

“What I would say about that is (with) public funding, the only state option, the other county option, the third city option,” Manfred said. “Whether that competition (with other teams) is direct or not, just depends on the decisions that are made regarding applications.”

It doesn’t seem likely the Rays will get state aid for the project, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last year vetoed funding for a potential new spring training site in Pasco County, saying, “I don’t support giving taxpayer dollars to professional sports. stadiums, period.”


• Manfred told the Times that his office spoke with DeSantis, and the elementary-level books about baseball stars Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente that were pulled from Duval County schools as part of the review process led by the status have been approved and are being restored.

• Manfred said in his press briefing that MLB stands ready to step in if regional networks parent company Bally Sports files for bankruptcy, not just to produce and broadcast games, but also financially.

“You know, we have a pretty good balance in central baseball,” he said. “I think it’s safe to assume that we will give all the support we can to clubs that are at risk.”

• Manfred said there is no timetable for the implementation of the Automatic Balls and Strikes system, commonly known as robo-umps, at the major league level.

Times staff writer Kristie Ackert contributed to this report.

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