ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The Tampa Bay Rays are expected to announce Friday that the team’s preferred location for a new ballpark is a Ybor City site in Tampa, according to multiple reports. The announcement is expected to take place at 1:30 p.m. at the Tampa Baseball Museum. The Rays have said their current ballpark, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, is outdated.
Critics of Tropicana Field say the St. Pete location creates problems in drawing fans. The Rays have consistently ranked last in fan attendance among major league teams.
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman still favors the current location for the team’s new ballpark.
"This is the process unfolding as envisioned in order to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay. The easy part is picking a favorite site. Hard part is figuring out the rest. I believe the Trop site is the best future home for the Rays, but we will also begin to master plan the site without a stadium," Kriseman tweeted Thursday.
The Rays have declined comment.
The competition for a new Rays stadium site has been waged between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and the selection of the site near Ybor City by Hillsborough County officials last year was considered a significant step in the possible relocation of the team from St. Petersburg.
Hillsborough and Pinellas are the only counties competing for a new stadium under an agreement between the Rays and the city of St. Petersburg reached in January 2016. A rendering of the potential Hillsborough stadium site shows a ballpark between Channelside Drive on the west and North 15th Street on the east.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said the county has reached a deal to gain control of roughly 14 acres in the Ybor City-Channel District area near downtown. He said the site has access to Ybor parking garages, the street car line (which could be expanded) and a possible marina. He said Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has toured the area.
The stadium could cost more than $600 million and Hagan has said that working out a financing plan will be difficult.
He said the Rays will need to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to a new ballpark. The era of publicly funded sports stadiums is over, Hagan said. He said the county will not propose a sales tax increase to pay for a new stadium, such as the tax hike that generated money for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium.
The county commissioner has said there will be "no sweetheart" deals for the new ballpark.
Image of Tropicana Field via AP/Chris O’Meara