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Florida Matters takes a closer look at pro sports in Tampa Bay region as Rays unveil stadium deal

Renderings of the new ballpark and redeveloped Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg.
Tampa Bay Rays
Renderings of the new ballpark and redeveloped Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg proposed by Rays and Hines.

As the Rays seal the deal on a new stadium and head to the MLB playoffs, and the Bucs start their season in winning form, could our region be 'Champa Bay' once more?

The Tampa Bay Rays have finalized a deal to build a new stadium in St. Petersburg.

"Today we celebrate coming to terms on an agreement to make that plan a reality. Major League Baseball is here to stay, right here," Rays majority owner Stu Sternberg said at a press conference with city and county leaders at Tropicana Field Tuesday.

The new, 30,000 seat, domed stadium will be built on the Tropicana site, with construction set to begin in 2024 and the stadium expected to open in 2028.

The deal has been a long time in the making, and as Sternberg noted, the road to remain in Tampa Bay has been bumpy. The Rays talked of building a stadium in Tampa. Then they wanted to play one-half of the season in Montreal before that got shot down by Major League Baseball.

The Rays will pay for more than half of the $1.3 billion stadium with the city and Pinellas County chipping in a combined $600 million dollars for the project.

The Hines-Rays redevelopment of the 86-acre site includes 1,200 affordable housing units and $50 million towards equity initiatives in South St. Pete.

Mayor Ken Welch said the plan honors promises that were made to the Black community when the historic Gas Plant neighborhood was torn down to make way for Tropicana Field in the 1980s.

"For the descendants of the historic Gas Plant and everyone in St. Pete, that dream is no longer deferred, but it will soon become a reality as we embark on implementing our 21st Century vision for equitable economic development on this sacred land," said Welch.

"This is what the community was promised. This is what business and civic leaders, over decades, have hoped for. And this is what we will accomplish. This is what progress looks like."

As the Tampa Bay Times broke news of the impending deal on Monday, WUSF spoke with business owners near Tropicana Field.

"I think it's going to help out a lot of the other local businesses because you know, people want to try new things," said Megan Ann, who manages the Peace of Mind Smoke Shop on Central Avenue.

Just down the block, Zaytoon Grill owner Waleed Kahlel said making a stadium part of the new development is a good thing.

"It will help the restaurant a lot, you know, for them being here. You know, at least we see new faces when the game is here, when the Rays are here. I hope they stay."

Joining Florida Matters host Matthew Peddie to discuss the new stadium and what it means for the Rays are Spectrum Bay News 9 sports reporter Mike Cairns, long time Tampa Bay sports journalist Joey Johnston, and NFL / Buccaneers columnist and JoeBucsFan.com podcast host Ira Kaufman.

They also discuss the Rays heading into the MLB playoffs, the Buccaneers in the post-Tom Brady era, the Lightning preparing for the start of the 2023-24 NHL season and whether Tampa Bay could once more claim the ‘Champa Bay’ title.

You can listen to the full conversation by clicking on the “Listen” button above. Or you can listen on the WUSF app under “Programs & Podcasts.

I am the host of WUSF’s weekly public affairs show Florida Matters, where I get to indulge my curiosity in people and explore the endlessly fascinating stories that connect this community.
Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
As a host and reporter for WUSF, my goal is to unearth and highlight issues that wouldn’t be covered otherwise. If I truly connect with my audience as I relay to them the day’s most important stories and make them think about an issue past the point that I’ve said it in a newscast, that’s a success in my eyes.