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Rays Say Where They Want A New Stadium; Who Will Pay For It Is Next Question

There's no timetable on when it would open, and no formal plan of what it would look like, but at least the Tampa Bay Rays have finally announced that they want to build their new ballpark on a 14-acre plot of land in Ybor City.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg was joined Friday by Tampa and Hillsborough County officials, along with local business leaders, in announcing that the new baseball stadium would be built north of the Ybor Channel.

"Ybor City is authentically Tampa Bay - it is a place with soul, with grit, and with a rich, rich baseball history as well," Sternberg said. "We cannot be more excited in playing a role in writing the next chapter of Ybor's storied history by together building a next-generation neighborhood ballpark that integrates this vibrant and growing community."

He added they focused on the location at least six months ago, and it's now the the sole place they're looking at.

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg speaks to reporters at Friday's press conference. "I will not talk about any other possibilities," Sternberg said. "Our entire focus right now and energies are going to be put towards getting this (Ybor City stadium) project done."

"I will not talk about any other possibilities," Sternberg said. "Our entire focus right now and energies are going to be put towards getting this project done and as the people up here have said, it's going to be a complex project and it's going need all or our energies to get it done."

While no one is putting an exact price tag on the project, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said it could cost up to $800 million. And its financing won't look like what was done for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"This is going to be far more complex, as it should be, than what Raymond James was, which was one source, entirely paid for by the taxpayers. This transaction will not look anything like that," the mayor said.

Sternberg wouldn't say how much the Rays are willing to commit to the project, but Buckhorn wants it to be as much as half the bill.

"Our goal is to minimize the exposure of the taxpayers, put as much burden as we possibly can on tourists or folks that rent cars or stay in hotels, and then just do the best we can," Buckhorn said.

The news conference was held in the heart of Ybor City in the future home of the Tampa Baseball Museum. That was the boyhood home of Al Lopez, Tampa’s first Major League player and the first Tampa native to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"Baseball is in Tampa's DNA," Buckhorn said, making reference to Lopez and fellow Tampa native player-managers Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa, as well as former Ray Wade Boggs.

"I think we'll do better than what they do in St. Petersburg, partially because of the history here, partially because of the proximity to downtown Tampa, Polk County and Pasco County," he said.

But Buckhorn also praised St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who helped negotiate a deal that allowed the Rays to look elsewhere in Pinellas and Hillsborough County for a new home.

"We owe a great debt of gratitude to Mayor Kriseman for having the fortitude and the courage to do the right thing for the right reasons, to give this region, not just St. Pete but this region, the opportunity to compete to ensure that the Rays stayed in the Bay area," Buckhorn said.

Sternberg noted that the team is still committed to St. Petersburg, as they're putting another $7 million dollars in renovations into Tropicana Field for the upcoming season, which marks the Rays' 20th anniversary.

"I've got a wonderful facility right now," Sternberg said. "The Trop has been our home and we've put $40 million into the place. We continue to make it fan-friendly, probably as nice a place in baseball to see a game."

Credit Tampa Bay Rays 2020
Tampa Bay Rays 2020
Tampa Bay Rays 2020 is a corporate-led effort to find business sponsors and raise ticket sales for the Rays ahead of a move to Ybor City.

But the team is also looking ahead by tapping into corporate support with Tampa Bay Rays 2020.

The campaign is led by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, Chuck Sykes, CEO of Sykes Enterprises, and Ron Christaldi, a partner in the law firm Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick. Shumaker is an underwriter for WUSF Public Media.

The goal of the group is to find business sponsors and raise ticket sales.

"The ticket structure (for the Rays) is structurally broken," Sykes said. "Two-thirds of the ticket (sales) should be coming from the business community, one-third from the general public. We've always been reversed. We think some of that has to do obviously with the location."

"We want to get as much of that support in the business community," he added. "It's going to be essential that we have that support."

The Rays held their annual fan festival the next day. As fans strolled along Tropicana Field - the St. Petersburg home to the Rays since 1998 - they shared their thoughts on the potential move.

Fans were passionate and mostly divide along geographic lines.

Pat McGovern, a Seminole resident and season ticket holder, said she's been with the team since the beginning, but she isn't thrilled by the move.

"The move to Ybor will make [getting to games] difficult as I still work," she said. "Having to make it across the bridge will be difficult to make it to 7 p.m. games. Hopefully they're considering transportation."

Adam Robinson of Tampa said he's excited by the kind of new businesses the Rays' move could bring to Ybor and Channelside. And he had a message message for St. Pete residents:

"We've made a change for 20 years going to your stadium over the bridge, dealing with traffic because we're religious fans. It's your turn for the next 20 years," he said.

Others were skeptical of a new stadium entirely. St. Petersburg resident Reagan Knight said he wasn't sure Tampa business leaders and the city would be able to raise the money necessary to build the stadium.

Knight said he felt the announcement was simply an effort to play the cities off of each other.

"As far as moving to Ybor and Hillsborough County, I don't think that's going to happen. They can't raise the money," he said. "Ultimately, I do believe the Rays will stay right here."

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.
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