We keep hearing–and will continue to hear–about the “vision” for Tropicana Field redevelopment and a permanent new home for the Rays in St. Petersburg. We know those community-defining 86 acres are rife with potential. Seven developers have made proposals for a de facto gateway to downtown, with inclusions for retail, residential and green space, as well as a repurposing of Booker Creek and paying homage to what once was an African-American neighborhood. Tellingly, proposals came both with and without a stadium option. City Hall talks with the Rays, whose lease runs through 2027, are stalemated over development rights’ details–and there’s still the Tampa Bay/Montreal X-Rays scenario.
There’s also this. The Rays have had ample time across more than two decades to embed themselves into the city and the regional market. They’ve been to two World Series. They’ve become the baseball avatar of smart and successful. But attendance continues beyond problematic–at or near the bottom of MLB franchises every season. The issue is this unique market. In short, no meaningful mass transportation in an asymmetrical region with a bay that morphs into a transit gulf. We have few corporate headquarters, which greatly impacts season ticket sales. The closest market west of St. Petersburg is Corpus Christi. We have summer options—from sailing and fishing and golfing to getaways to North Carolina for those opting out of humidity and hurricane paranoia. We also have a substantial base of those with allegiances elsewhere. Who wouldn’t want to sit next to Red Sox and Yankee fans?
St. Pete can still work for the Rowdies at undersized Al Lang. But for major league baseball to succeed—given all the obstacles—it will take the best possible site beyond St. Pete. One located in the geographic and business hub. Location is the one variable that can still be addressed–and it’s the one that still matters most. How ironic that hockey is a sports anchor in Tampa Bay, while the Rays still tread attendance water.