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Are the Rays’ Days in St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay Area Numbered?

October 28th, 2012 at 11:11 PM
By Chad Brockhoff

When Wilson Alvarez threw the first pitch in the dirt during the 1998 opener between the visiting Detroit Tigers and the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Tropicana Field was perhaps already antiquated.

Construction on the dome began in November 1986 with the intention of luring an existing major league team. Less than two years after being jilted by the Chicago White Sox, the dome officially opened in March 1990. An expansion National League franchise, which was scheduled to begin play in 1992, became the dome’s next targeted tenant.

By the time the National League selected Miami and Denver over St. Petersburg and others for the two expansion franchises, the dome was falling behind the curve set by the opening of Sky Dome in Toronto. Less than three years after a failed flirtation with the San Francisco Giants, the Tampa Bay area was awarded with a major league expansion team on March 9, 1995.

Both Major League Baseball and the team’s ownership knew that the then-Devil Rays would be confined to a venue that fallen far behind the standard set by Toronto for a long time. Tropicana Field, which served as the host venue for the Arena Football League’s Tampa Bay Storm during the franchise’s Zubaz glory days of the 1990s and the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning while it waited for baseball, has been perceived as outdated and inconveniently located for those residing in the upper half of the nation’s 13th media market.

Retractable roof aside, Tropicana Field’s construction meant that it was behind in terms of revenue-generating ballpark attractions such as corporate suites. The ballpark is often considered gimmicky with its catwalks and strange ground rules.

However, the apathy of the area’s sports fans is also a factor in the franchise’s inability to compete dollar for dollar with American League East counterparts New York and Boston. A factor that may allow Rays managing general partner Stuart Sternberg, who took control of the franchise from original majority owner Vince Naimoli in May 2004, to eventually leave the area in spite of a lockdown agreement with the city of St. Petersburg that will last another 15 seasons.

With the World Series heading to Detroit and Florida’s first love of football in full swing, Sternberg’s attempt to look for a Hillsborough County location in spite of recent proposal for a new stadium to be built in Carillon Park has been overlooked. The Carillon Park facility, which carries an estimated price tag ranging from $424 to $574 million, would be located west of the Howard Frankland Bridge in Pinellas County.

Sternberg’s proposed search for a compatible location for a stadium to be located in the same county, which serves as the home for the NFL’s Buccaneers, NHL’s Lightning and the University of South Florida Bulls, drew a strong rebuke from the city of St. Petersburg’s leadership recently.

In a report describing the latest turf war in big-league sports, the Tampa Tribune had a disheartening line. St. Petersburg city councilman Jeff Danner believes that giving the Rays could “be emboldened to look beyond Tampa” with permission to negotiate for a new Hillsborough County venue.

Tags: Baseball, MLB, Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Rays

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