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Design & Development

Rays strike agreement for ‘transformational’ ballpark development

Images: Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays have reached an agreement with the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County to move forward on a new $1.3bn (£1.05bn/€1.22bn) ballpark scheme, with officials confident they can finally deliver on an over decade-long effort to develop a new stadium.

The ballpark will have a capacity of around 30,000 for baseball, with the ability to accommodate up to 35,000 for other events, providing what the Rays claim will be the most intimate fan experience in Major League Baseball (MLB).

The Rays have partnered with real estate developer and manager Hines on the project, with the stadium, and an associated mixed-use development, to sit within the 86-acre site where the team’s current home, Tropicana Field, is located.

The agreement advances a project for St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay region that will include nearly eight million square feet of mixed-use development and a new, neighbourhood ballpark for the Rays that aims to ensure MLB stays in St. Petersburg for generations. Overall, the project will invest more than $6.5bn in St. Petersburg over 20 years and be the largest mixed-use development in Tampa Bay history.

Yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) announcement came after Rays principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, this month confirmed the franchise was willing to contribute more than half of the cost towards a new ballpark in St Petersburg.

St. Petersburg Mayor, Ken Welch, in January selected a proposal from the Rays and Hines to develop the site on which Tropicana Field currently sits. The Rays and Hines will serve as the master developers for the Historic Gas Plant Redevelopment Project. The proposal was one of four that were received by the city, with others submitted by 50 Plus 1 Sports, Restoration Associates, and Sugar Hill Community Partners.

The agreed-upon plan announced yesterday includes the key aspects of the original proposal submitted by the Hines Historic Gas Plant Partnership in response to Welch’s Request for Proposals in 2022. The agreement increases the number of affordable/workforce housing units to be built by the partnership to 1,200, with at least half of that amount to be built on the Historic Gas Plant site. It also adds on-site affordable units for seniors. 

The development agreement focuses heavily on the equitable, intentional and restorative delivery of community benefits and economic impacts, specifically to honour the legacy of the Historic Gas Plant neighbourhood’s residents and businesses.

This includes a $50m commitment to intentional equity initiatives in partnership with South St. Petersburg that include affordable housing funding, employment and business support, education programs and Minority/Women Owned Business Enterprises hiring commitments. Once fully built, the project is planned to include:

  • 4,800 residential units
  • 1,200 affordable/workforce residential units (on and off-site)
  • 600 senior living units
  • 1,400,000 square feet of office, medical and commercial space
  • 750,000 square feet of retail
  • 750 hotel rooms
  • 100,000 square feet of entertainment space, including a concert venue to seat up to 4,000
  • 50,000 square feet of civic space, namely a new home for the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum
  • 90,000 – 100,000 square feet of conference, ballroom and meeting space
  • 14 acres of public open space
  • 14,000 parking spaces

The Rays will pay more than half of the $1.3bn ballpark and be responsible for any cost overruns. Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg will combine to contribute approximately $600m in equal amounts.

Construction on the development is expected to begin in late 2024 in the first of two phases. The team will continue to play in the existing ballpark on the site until the end of its current lease with the City of St. Petersburg in 2027. Phase One of the development and the new ballpark is projected to be ready by MLB Opening Day 2028.

The public approval process by Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg is expected to begin this autumn. Welch said: “Our transformational development of 86 acres in the heart of St. Petersburg will benefit St. Pete and Tampa Bay residents for generations to come.

“The Rays are here to stay, and it’s also critical to underscore that this impactful work is much bigger than baseball and extends far beyond the 17-acre ballpark. We are duty bound with our intentional efforts to honour the broken promises made to the Historic Gas Plant community, an incredibly special place that my own family called home.

“Our strong partnership with Pinellas County and the Hines-Rays group is coupling opportunity with hope, linking jobs to economic growth, fulfilling a commitment to minority business participation, and building thousands of residential units, including a significant number of affordable and workforce housing to uplift families and strengthen neighbourhoods.”

The Rays have played at Tropicana Field since 1998 but a move away from St. Petersburg has been considered for some time. In December, the City of Tampa rekindled plans to secure the Rays by releasing renderings of a proposed new stadium. In response to Tampa’s move, the City of St. Petersburg reiterated its stance that the Historic Gas Plant District was the best location for a new stadium “for a variety of reasons”.

In December 2018, the Rays took the decision to abandon a project for a new stadium in Ybor City, Tampa after challenges related to funding. The club had unveiled plans to create the most intimate ballpark in MLB, with the headline feature of the Populous-designed stadium being a translucent roof accounting for 30% of the project cost.

In January 2022, Sternberg expressed frustration after MLB rejected the franchise’s innovative ‘Sister City’ venture with Montreal, forcing the team to refocus its efforts on securing a new home in the local region.

When questioned on what makes the latest deal different, Rays president Brian Auld told the Tampa Bay Times: “We’ve had stadium announcements before, so that’s a very fair question. But this one comes with a financing plan to it. One that’s been agreed to by both the mayor and the county administrator. So we are many, many innings ahead of where we’ve been able to get before.”

Many have also questioned why the Rays would choose to remain at essentially the same site which has seen the team struggle on the attendance front for much of its first 26 seasons. The Rays’ average home attendance of 17,778 at Tropicana Field this season is 27th among MLB’s 30 teams, but Auld states the recent property development drive and influx of new residents in downtown St. Petersburg has changed the team’s thinking.

“One of the things I’ve said multiple times is we’re in the same location as we were five years ago, but I really do feel like we’re in a different city,” Auld said. “There are so many (new condos and apartment buildings) all across the city, and all across this region, that I do believe it has fundamentally changed this region’s, and this city’s, ability to support our team.”