Tampa Bay Rays look to leave St. Pete & Trop for new Ybor City ballpark

TAMPA (WFLA) – The Tampa Bay Rays are one step closer to moving to Tampa.

It’s no secret that the Rays have wanted to move and even talked about several possible locations for a new ballpark in Hillsborough County, including Ybor City.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has been working with Rays officials for the past year and a half to identify the location for a new Major League Ballpark complex. And on Tuesday, he announced the spot: Ybor City neighborhood bordered by Channelside Drive, E. 4th Street, N. 15th Street and Adamo Drive.

“This is a significant step on moving the team to Hillsborough County,” said Hagan.

TIMELINE: History of Rays and The Trop

He spoke exclusively with News Channel 8’s Jeff Patterson about this deal. Hagan is confident the team is on board with the plan.

“It was quite challenging, at times. The team immediately took some off the table, they added some and really went through the benefits and weaknesses of each site,” Hagan said. “It meets all of the Rays guiding principles, if you will: It’s in a historic area, it has great access, it’s close to the water.”

Having the only domed stadium in Major League Baseball, the Rays knew it was time to think about a new home and layout.

Tropicana Field, The Trop, is considered by many to be one of the worst ballparks in Major League Baseball. It’s been called a bad facility in a bad location.

But it wasn’t always that way. The story goes back to the 1980s when St. Petersburg wanted a MLB franchise and built a stadium to attract one.

The Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants all considered moving, but in the end, built new stadiums in their own markets.

But St. Pete moved forward anyway. The Florida Suncoast Dome opened March 3, 1990 at a cost of about $138 million. And St. Pete was finally awarded an expansion team – Devil Rays – in 1995. They began playing in 1998.

At the time, the ballpark got a new name and an upgrade. Part of the $85 million renovations included installation of Astroturf, clubhouses, dugouts, additional luxury suites, restrooms, elevators, escalators and administrative offices.

But that didn’t draw the crowds. Even during the run for the World Series in 2008, crowds were down.

Catwalks hit by batted balls, poor sight lines and the warm-up pen location were criticized at The Trop. The upper deck seats were eventually covered up.

The Rays tried to up the fan experience, adding new restaurants, a cigar bar and the Rays Touch Tank. But still attendance was low.

And being called the Tampa Bay Rays, fans never liked being 20 miles away in St. Pete.

The question now is what happens to the lease at the Trop? It reportedly goes through 2027.

“The next step is dealing with the challenges of a complex financing plan and that will undoubtedly be challenging, we are going to have to be creative and work closely with the team on that,” Hagan said.

The Rays later released this statement:

Tropicana Field stats:

  • The Trop
  • Only non-retractable domed stadium in MLB
  • Owned by city of St. Petersburg
  • 1st MLB game was March 31, 1998
  • 1st to feature FieldTurf
  • 32nd largest covered-field sports stadium
  • Roof slanted at a 6.5-degree angle
  • 42,735 seating capacity – smallest MLB stadium
  • Rays Touch Tank 1st of its kind at pro sports venue
  • 1st to host NCAA Final Four, the NHL, college football & MLB

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