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Rays committed to ballpark plan after Rowdies takeover

Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise the Tampa Bay Rays have maintained they are completely committed to their plan to develop a new ballpark in Ybor City after acquiring United Soccer League (USL) team Tampa Bay Rowdies and taking control of its Al Lang Stadium.

News of the takeover first emerged on Monday leading to speculation that the Rays may be seeking alternative ballpark options. However, at a press conference to announce the Rowdies deal yesterday (Tuesday), Rays president Matt Silverman rejected talk of any uncertainty concerning the Ybor project.

Silverman said: “Some obvious questions are being asked, especially about what this might mean for our Ybor ballpark plans. The answer is simple: There is no connection. The Rays are committed to our ballpark plan in Ybor and we’re committed to the Rowdies playing at Al Lang.”

The Rays have acquired the Rowdies from Bill Edwards, who purchased the football club in December 2013 and has since invested millions of dollars in stadium renovations, player and coaching personnel and youth development.

Management will transition at the conclusion of the current USL season, at which time the Rays will also take over the existing contract with the City of St. Petersburg for management of Al Lang Stadium, where the team will continue to play matches.

The Tampa Bay Times noted that the deal won’t become official until October 11, at the earliest, with St. Petersburg City Council needing to approve the takeover as it includes changing the Rowdies’ lease to play at Al Lang Stadium.

Edwards said the current agreement stipulates that only the Rowdies can play at Al Lang during the current contract, which runs through to November 30, 2020. He also said the Rays deal has a clause that the Rowdies play at Al Lang for at least the next five years.

“I’ve heard a lot of conspiracies,” Edwards said, according to the Times. “There’s nothing going on. Our agreement is to keep the Rowdies in town for at least five years.”

In July, the Rays unveiled plans to create the most intimate ballpark in MLB. Drawn up by architectural firm Populous, the headline design feature is a translucent roof accounting for 30 per cent of the project cost that would fully enclose the ballpark to ensure comfortable temperatures and game certainty.

The ballpark will have 28,216 fixed seats and a total capacity of 30,842. It is projected to cost $809m (£623.6m/€700.3m), with additional infrastructure costs of $83m, and could be complete for Opening Day 2023.

Silverman also maintained that seeking Major League Soccer (MLS) status for the Rowdies is not a major priority for the Rays. “It’s not something that we categorically rule out, but it’s not a part of our plans,” he added.

“We’re very happy with the Rowdies’ standing in the United Soccer League. We think it’s a great fit for the team and the venue we play in. We made this decision that we are going to be in the USL for a long time.”

Image: Tampa Bay Rowdies