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Mayor Ken Welch talks about the Rays' future in St. Pete ahead of opening day

Man stands at podium wearing glasses and a baseball jersey and hat. A group of people stand behind him on stairs. A large, furry, blue mascot stands to his left with one paw in the air.
Lily Theisen
/
WUSF Public Media
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch was joined by Tampa Bay Rays' mascot, Raymond, right, at city hall before opening day Friday.

The Tampa Bay Rays begin the 2022 Major League Baseball season Friday against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch and city council members welcomed Tampa Bay Rays officials to city hall Thursday ahead of the team's opening day game Friday.

But questions about the team's future in St. Pete beyond the 2022 season were also on people's minds.

Due to stormy weather, Welch raised a Rays flag inside City Hall instead of outside, along with making a request for unity from the Tampa Bay region.

“We are ready for Rays baseball,” Welch said. “And the message today for all of Tampa Bay is let's raise up and support our Rays this season.”

The team’s lease at Tropicana Field is up in 2027, and despite increased recent interest expressed by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor in providing a home across the bay, Welch said he is confident that the Rays will 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."

The Tampa Bay Times reported last month that Castor said that the Rays need to choose a location.

Welch said Thursday the city and Pinellas County are on the same page and have created a strong team to focus on the effort.

“We met with the Rays (Wednesday) and we have the understanding that St. Petersburg will receive full consideration for the Rays’ future ballpark,'' Welch said.

Another report from the Times said that city representatives sent 15 questions to Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners, two firms that want to re-develop the current site of Tropicana Field.

While Kriseman picked Midtown before his term ended, Welch said he will select a firm in the next 90 days.

“We're moving forward and putting our plans together. We're looking at the city of St. Petersburg, and I think we've got the strongest team and the best options for the Rays.”

Welch said in February that Albert Whitted Airport on the city's waterfront could be a site for a new stadium.

But Rays President Brian Auld voiced doubts about that idea earlier this week.

Speaking at the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Leadership summit, Auld said, while no sites have been specifically ruled out, sea level rise — and the financial expenses that come with mitigation — need to be a consideration in the decision on where a new stadium will be built.

“Cost estimates for constructing on the waterfront — which is something that for a lot of good reasons many folks would be interested in seeing a ballpark that highlights the beauty of our region and the beauty of our waterfront — are getting more expensive and more challenging," he said.

Another nearby Bayfront site, Al Lang Stadium, has long been considered a favorite prospective option. But Auld said the problem there is that the field's locker rooms flood every year.

On Thursday, Welch said that baseball means a lot to St. Petersburg because a lot was sacrificed to bring the team to the city.

He said keeping the Rays is important because of their part in the city’s development and that it means a lot more than just having a major league baseball team in the city.

“It's not just a stadium to us. It's a part of our history,” Welch said. “I think the Rays can play an important part in building equitable progress moving forward. So it's very important to the city of St. Petersburg.”

Additional reporting by WUSF's Bailey LeFever.