John Romano: Why in the world would the Rays rebuild on the Trop site?

John Romano, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Doubt made its first appearance on April 1, 1998. That was the day the Devil Rays saw their attendance dip 33% for the second game in franchise history at Tropicana Field.

Since that evening, we have been told there were problems with a stadium on the edge of downtown St. Petersburg. It was too far from the market’s population center, there was no corporate base surrounding the ballpark, it was in a downtrodden part of the city.

It was — we heard from team executives, baseball commissioners and smartass commentators for a quarter-century — at the root of all of Tampa Bay’s attendance problems.

And, on Monday, we celebrated the possibility of a stadium sequel in the same blessed spot.

Woo hoo?

This is not a condemnation of Mayor Ken Welch’s announcement that the Hines/Rays partnership had been chosen to redevelop the 86-acre Trop site. In fact, it was the correct move by the mayor and an encouraging sign for a community that has heard the persistent hum of relocation talk for years.


But it is a decision that requires explanation.

The Rays have made it clear that they would prefer a stadium in Tampa and have kicked around several sites near Ybor City and the waterfront. So why consider spending as much as $1.2 billion for a stadium in the same location that has contributed to attendance woes and lower-than-expected revenues?

“I think it’s well understood that Tampa is the business and geographic center of the region. But it’s been proven to be challenging to get a ballpark built over there,” said Rays president Brian Auld. “Meanwhile, St. Petersburg continues to grow, continues to evolve and is continuing to support this team in a meaningful way. And there’s good reason to believe that, with a placemaking development like the one we’re talking about, we can increase attendance even more.

“Most important, and this has been the case from Day One, it’s just figuring out a way to make sure this ballclub stays in Tampa Bay for generations to come. We’re running out of time.”


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