Where will the new stadium go now?

7:04 AM, May 23, 2009   |    comments
  • The Tampa Bay Rays say they have abandoned plans to build a new waterfront stadium.
  • Tropicana Field
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St. Petersburg, Florida -- Two weeks after 10Connects first reported plans for a new waterfront stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays were dead ("Mayoral candidates debate new Rays stadium," May 8), the team made it official on Friday: building a retractable-roof stadium at Al Lang Field is no longer an option.

The Rays can provide numerous reasons why they need a new stadium.  However, the single-biggest reason happens to be the same reason they won't be building on the Al Lang site and - while they haven't said it yet - why they won't be building downtown, either.

Location, location, location.

Tampa Bay is one of the 15 largest metropolitan areas in the country, yet the Rays are considered a "small-market" team.  Your defending American League Champions aren't selling out games and couldn't even pack the house for some of the recent contests against their single-biggest rival, the Red Sox.  Why?

Location, location, location.

The Rays simply can't capitalize on the huge Tampa Bay population as long as they are playing in a remote corner of Pinellas County.

Families in Brandon simply aren't traveling 45 minutes to see a major league baseball game.  A group of bankers in downtown Tampa aren't fighting the rush-hour traffic over the Howard Frankland Bridge to see a weeknight game.  And teenagers in Hillsborough aren't bothering to take their dates to Pinellas when there are plenty of other entertainment options nearby.

It all boils down to the worst-kept secret in Tampa Bay sports - Tropicana Field was built on the wrong side of the bay.

The Rays don't want a new stadium so they can have a bigger locker room or more luxury boxes (although those would be nice perks), they want a new stadium so they can play closer to the center of the area's population.

The independent ABC Coalition has been studying proposed ballpark locations and while they haven't released their reports yet, I've got another poorly-kept secret for you - they're going to find playing in Tampa would be much more lucrative for the Rays.

And since the team can't get out of its current lease until 2027 without some cooperation from St. Pete and Pinellas County, the ABC Coalition is likely to suggest the team relocate to the Toytown/Gateway area, where residents of Hillsborough County could get to the park with much more ease.

In our initial story on May 8, we asked each of the six frontrunners for mayor of St. Pete what he or she thought the Rays needed.  While all agreed keeping them downtown was in the city's best interest, only three acknowledged the team would want to move closer to the bay bridges.

Businessman Scott Wagman and former City Councilman Bill Foster both said they'd prefer a downtown location, but said they could live with a site further north.

Former Councilman Larry Williams - to his credit - said, "What's best for the Rays may not be what's best for the city," and pledged to try to keep them downtown.

Unfortunately for the Rays, what's best for them - playing in Tampa - isn't a possibility.  They'll have to spend the next few months (or years) negotiating with the City of St. Pete to find themselves a new location that suits both parties' needs.

You can follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky.

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