Timeline: Tropicana Field and the Rays' future in Tampa Bay
After St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch's announcement to scrap plans to redevelop Tropicana Field and start over, here's a look at how we got here over the last two years.
After almost two years of planning how to redevelop the Tropicana Field site, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch announced on Wednesday that he will launch a new “request for proposal” (RFP) process, canceling the initial request from 2020 and previous mayor Rick Kriseman.
In a statement released on the city’s website, Welch noted that the “environment has changed” since the original RFP — referring to the pandemic, the need for office space, rising housing and rental prices, the need for “intentional equity and equitable development” and the need to embrace the Community Benefits model the city council adopted in 2021.
The other sore subject: What to do with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The team’s lease expires in 2027, and while Welch said he hopes the Rays will be part of the redevelopment plan, he believes a new path will at least bring certainty to the future of the Rays in St. Petersburg.
So how did we get here in the first place? We’ve compiled a two-year recap of what’s been happening with the Rays and their set to expire home, Tropicana Field.
July 28, 2020 - Trop bids begin
It all started almost two years ago when St. Petersburg started accepting development bids for Tropicana Field. With the Tampa Bay Rays’ lease ending in 2027, the city began looking to partner with a development team on what to do with the 86 acres of publicly owned land that the stadium was sitting on.
April 8, 2021 - Four development finalists named
Four teams ended up in the running to submit redevelopment plans, and they spent a week pitching their ideas to community representatives. While several attendees turned their questions toward the future and if the Rays would stay at the site, a lot of questions centered on the area’s past. Hundreds of families residing in Gas Plant and Laurel Park, two predominantly Black neighborhoods, were displaced in the early 1980s to make way for Tropicana Field.
Former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a member of one of the redevelopment teams in the running, said whoever is picked for the site must honor its heritage.
May 28, 2021 - Two development finalists named
Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman narrowed the finalist pool down to two companies that would have the chance to submit plans to redevelop the Tropicana Field site, Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners, JMA Ventures.
Sept. 10, 2021 - Low attendance means discount seating
While the Rays had one of the best records in Major League Baseball in 2021, they simultaneously had some of the worst attendance numbers. To try and combat poor turnout, seats in the lower reserved sections and Tropicana Field’s party deck were dropped to $10 each for the final 10 home games. Additionally, the team offered discounts on beer, soft drinks, popcorn and candy.
Oct. 1, 2021 - Pushing the Montreal sister city plan
Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld said two open-air stadiums, one in the Tampa area and one in Montreal, could as much as double attendance at games. “We were trying to make the numbers work, and we just couldn't do it. And so we turned our attention towards a newer, more unique, fresher concept that we're floating out there that we know has a lot of detractors. We’re doing all that, we are suffering the slings and arrows because it's so important, because we don't see another way to keep the team here,” Auld said.
Nov. 16, 2021 - Pressure’s on MLB to make a decision
Auld asked Major League Baseball’s executive council to move forward with a plan to split seasons between the greater Tampa Bay region and Montreal. Auld repeatedly said it was the only way to keep the team in the region and that a new ballpark would be cheaper under the proposal. “I'm not going to get into exact specifics. But I'll reference, you know, a roughly $700 million stadium, and we want to try to pay for half of it," he said. "If we can pull that off, I think you will have one of the lowest public contributions into a ballpark that we've seen in a very long time,” Auld said.
Dec. 2, 2021 - Midtown Development is selected
Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman chose Midtown Development to reimagine the Tropicana Field site.
"They understand — and this is most important to me — that the site behind me must connect to where we are standing today, in south St. Petersburg," Kriseman said. "And that connection must be physical, emotional and economical."
"That future," Kriseman continued, "includes a development that provides jobs, mixed-income housing, office space, entertainment, an emphasis on the creek, the natural environment and the Pinellas Trail."
Dec. 2, 2021 - Black community leaders endorse Midtown Development
With Tropicana Field sitting on the former home to two predominantly black neighborhoods until the 1980s, leaders of St. Petersburg’s Black community had been vocal throughout the entire selection process of the chosen developer.
Watson Haynes, president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League, said the league formally endorsed and worked with Midtown Development of Miami months prior to Kriseman’s decision and would be following the project’s progress.
“This is gonna be real,” Haynes said. “This is not some play game, this is not some fluff. Because if I'm involved in it, it's gonna happen."
Jan. 20, 2022 - Montreal sister city stadium is a no-go
Major League Baseball nixed the plan to divide the Rays’ home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal.
Stu Sternberg, the team's principal owner, said the decision was not prompting him to sell or move the team, but he did not rule out moving after the Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field runs out in 2027.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said, "All along our goal has been to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay. We had been working on both sister city and full season proposals, and now we can focus all of our energy on a full season. I am optimistic the Rays will call Tampa Bay home for many years to come."
Feb. 10, 2022 - MLB commissioner stresses the Rays’ ballpark needs
One month later, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said league officials “have a sense of urgency” to find a new ballpark for the Rays.
Feb. 18, 2022 - A potential new home at Albert Whitted Airport
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch commissioned a study to look at the future of the city's Albert Whitted Airport. The field sits on prime waterfront property, and some city residents said it benefits only a few airplane owners.
Welch says a new baseball stadium for the Rays would be part of the discussion.
"It's not, does a Rays ballpark go there? It's what we do with that 119 acres," he said. "And the Rays certainly could be an alternative in that. So it's really not driving the conversation, but it's certainly an important element."
April 7, 2022 - Welch and Castor want to keep Rays close
As the Rays’ 2022 season began, the team’s expiring 2027 lease at Tropicana Field crept closer. Despite increased interest expressed by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor in providing a home across the bay, St. Pete Mayor Welch said he is confident that the Rays would find a place to stay in his city.
“Mayor Castor and I are on the same page on a lot of things, including this, that we're both going to put our best proposal on the table and the best proposal will win," said Welch. "I believe that will be in St. Petersburg."
May 20, 2022 - Black pastors endorse runner-up developer
Black pastors called on Welch to reconsider Kriseman’s choice to redevelop the Tropicana Field site.
Bishop Manuel Sykes, senior pastor at the Bethel Community Baptist Church, said there isn't a shadow of a doubt that JMA Ventures and their project called Sugar Hill Community Partners should be the company St. Petersburg chooses.
"With Sugar Hill there'll be 30,000 jobs, affordable and workforce housing that makes it not only possible, but makes it probable that African Americans will be stakeholders forever. In this project, that's unequaled. There's no competition whatsoever that can hold up to that type of promise. And as I say, integrity," he said.
June 3, 2022 - DeSantis rejects funding Rays spring-training facility
Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a $35 million budget proposal that was expected to benefit the Tampa Bay Rays, stating that he opposed tax dollars going to professional sports stadiums. The Rays-related proposal was listed in the budget as “Sports Training and Youth Tournament Complex” in Pasco County, without mentioning the baseball team. But the money was expected to help cover a new spring-training facility for the Rays.
June 16, 2022 - MLB commissioner stresses the Rays’ ballpark needs (again)
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred reinforced the need to resolve the Rays’ ballpark situation. “There is urgency with respect to Tampa,” he said, adding that he was focusing on keeping the team in the area, not a specific city and emphasizing the phrase "right now."
June 27, 2022 - Welch prioritizes affordable housing over Rays stadium
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said that while he wants the Rays to be part of the new development involving the Tropicana Field site, he’s more focused on the need for affordable housing and the surrounding community.
“The Rays are important. But they're not the most important part of this development. This is a generational development," Welch said. "There aren't 86 acres like this anywhere in Pinellas County, probably in the state of Florida. It’s my focus and what I ran on. And so what no one should be surprised about this is that we have equitable development that benefits the entire community and pays respect to the sacrifice that was made by an entire community who lived there, because of redlining.”