The Tampa Bay Rays are finally going to say farewell to Tropicana Field.
Fresh off of clinching a playoff berth on Sunday, the Rays plan to announce a deal for a new baseball stadium in downtown St. Petersburg that will open in time for the 2028 Major League Baseball season. According to a report from Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the new stadium will be adjacent to “The Trop,” will seat 30,000 fans and have a closed fixed roof like its current home.
Topkin said that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will commit to half or more than half of the $1.2B in proposed funding, with some help:
He also said the team expected to “pay for half or more” of the stadium project, and that the Rays were talking to investors to contribute to the $600M or more cost in exchange for shares in the team.
The agreement will provide a new home for the team following the 2027 completion of a 30-year lease at Tropicana Field and is expected to lead to increased revenues via higher attendance and more sponsorship deals that team officials say will allow them to improve facilities and increase player payroll.
The hunt for a new stadium began before the Devil Rays turned ten years old. Upon gaining majority control of the team in 2007, Sternberg made the first push for a new stadium along the St. Petersburg waterfront, but he withdrew those plans in 2009 after local opposition to public financing. He, along with local and state officials, then explored other potential sites around St. Petersburg. Several years later, the Rays announced plans at a different location, which also fell through.
The desperation got far enough that Sternberg proposed a two-city plan to MLB where the Rays would split home games between Tropicana Field and Olympic Stadium in Montreal, which hasn’t hosted regular season baseball since the Expos moved to Washington D.C. (That plan was rejected by the league.)
It stands to wonder if the Rays would have already moved into new digs had they not been a disorganized mess seemingly devoid of talent in their initial years. The 2009 decision to not pursue the first plans may have been a gut punch for the franchise because it had just come off its first World Series appearance and has remained a strong contender in the American League for most of the last decade-plus.
It’s also worth wondering if a new stadium will compel Sternberg to spend more to retain top talent once the final brick has been laid. That sort of happened with the Miami Marlins after the team moved into what’s now LoanDepot Park 2012. Ever the spendthrift owner, Jeffrey Loria eventually broke the bank to keep Giancarlo Stanton in hopes that he would have been the franchise cornerstone for years to come, but they traded him to the New York Yankees four years after signing a then-historic 13-year, $325M extension. However, the Atlanta Braves broke out the checkbook for many core players after moving to Truist Park in 2018, winning the 2021 World Series and appearing like the favorite to win the crown in 2023.
Tampa Bay has long managed to win games and division titles without spending like their peers. In the crapshoot of the baseball postseason, it’s hard to envision the Rays changing their strategy if it will continue to keep them in contention before and after the new stadium is built.