Rays cleared to explore stadium locations in area

Rays cleared to explore stadium locations in area

The Rays have been granted approval to explore stadium options across the Tampa Bay area. On Thursday, the St. Petersburg City Council voted in favor of allowing the team to seek potential sites in Pinellas County as well as Tampa and the rest of Hillsborough County.

Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg attended the meeting that cleared the path for the team to seek a new home. Council members voted 5-3 in favor of the motion.

"It's been a long time coming for us, a lot of work in the organization," Sternberg said in an interview with the Rays Radio Network. "Basically, it means we get to start to look around, explore the region and see where the pitch-perfect place is for our home for decades to come."

After the vote, Major League Baseball issued the following statement:

"Major League Baseball appreciates this step forward taken by the St. Petersburg City Council and remains fully supportive of Stu Sternberg's vision to bring this stadium process to conclusion. Mr. Sternberg's patience and persistence throughout the franchise's long-standing efforts have illustrated his commitment to the fans of the region. We look forward to further progress in the weeks and months ahead as the Rays strive to ensure the future of the franchise with a first-class ballpark in the region."

Council chairwoman Amy Foster and members Charlie Gerdes, Karl Nurse, Darden Rise and Lisa Wheeler-Brown voted for the proposal. Ed Montanari, Jim Kennedy and Steve Kornell cast votes against it.

Thursday's approval came in St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's third attempt to pass such a motion. In 2014, the City Council was deadlocked 4-4.

Since 1998, their inaugural season when they were the Devil Rays, Tampa Bay has played at Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg. But for years, Sternberg has stressed the importance of a new ballpark to establish long-term franchise stability.

Now with permission to pursue new sites, the organization can better measure from the market what kind of stadium the fans prefer -- such as open air, retractable roof or enclosed entirely. The organization now can also do more detailed studies on transit, and what works best for a specific location.

"We can now go out and canvass businesses, canvass potential ticket holders as well, to see what kind of support they would give us, depending on where the stadium happens to be," Sternberg said. "How excited they are to have the stadium, 12 inches from where we currently are or 12 miles from where we currently are, and everywhere in between."

Tropicana Field, originally called the Florida Suncoast Dome, opened to the public in 1990. It hosted an Arena Football League team, the Tampa Bay Storm, and the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning before the arrival of the Rays.

The Rays' lease agreement with Tropicana Field runs through 2027. The current deal does not allow the club to explore alternative stadium sites in the area.

According to the Tampa Tribune, the latest proposal was negotiated by Kriseman and Rays officials, with input from council members.

The Tribune reports the proposal "maintains a $24 million buyout, but also includes incentives that would pay the team half of potential development revenue on the 85-acre Tropicana site if it stays up to or beyond 2027. The Rays get nothing if they leave before the end of the lease."

Additionally, the paper reports, the Rays "also must show the city how they will evaluate stadium locations and give the city six months to make a case for the Tropicana Field location. And the proposal requires the team to pay half the cost to develop a master plan for the Tropicana site, up to $100,000, with or without a new stadium."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.