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Manfred Wants Quicker Decision Made On Rays Stadium

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ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 23: Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred speaks with reporters before the start of a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays on August 23, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 23: Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred speaks with reporters before the start of a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays on August 23, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /
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Commissioner Robert Manfred was at Tropicana Field on Wednesday calling for the local governments and the Tampa Bay Rays to step up their plans for a new stadium.

There are six weeks left in this baseball season and the Tampa Bay Rays are in contention for the post-season for the first time since 2013. However, since 2007 the Rays have been looking for a new stadium and if all goes according to plans, a decision in that regard is expected to be made by the end of the season, post-season or not.

Prior to the Rays game against Toronto on Wednesday night, MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred was at Tropicana Field where he spent time with Ray’s principal owner Stuart Sternberg and spoke with the media, local government officials and the players. He had no particular agenda, however the media did which was the situation regarding the Rays quest for a new stadium.

Manfred very businesslike and did not sound urgent; he did call for urgency from the local government to move quicker on plans for a new stadium while speaking to the media.

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“I’ve been pretty clear that they need a new facility here,” Manfred said. “A Major League quality facility in an A-plus location. We did talk about that. It’s time to move that discussion to the front burner in Tampa.”

Finding a site that meets all the criteria has been a major roadblock, whether it is in Pinellas or Hillsborough County. Sternberg said they are down to few potential sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough County.

To guess where in Pinellas that site is, is like finding a needle in a haystack; however, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that it will not be to rebuild on the current location, which was one of the plans that St. Petersburg had mentioned.

To rebuild on the current site would defeat the purpose as attendance is and has always been a problem. Why build on the same site to likely get the same results, which are empty seats. Manfred was up close Wednesday night to witness the lowest paid attendance (8,264) at Tropicana Field since 2006.

Then again, what is not to say that a new stadium regardless of where the location is will not suffer in attendance as well?

“The intriguing thing is what makes for a great experience and that’s most successful for our fans to get to,” Sternberg said. “Things that will energize our fans and our corporate and business partners. And we think that we can work toward that. And wherever it happens to be, it’s going to have to fit the criteria which we’ve spelled out in the past. … Accessibility is a very important part of it.”

In the interim, Topkin also stated that a possible site could be in Ybor City, which is in Hillsborough County, though he did not mention where. However, Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Hillsborough county officials are working on securing a site in Ybor City.

Finding a site for a new stadium is one hurdle, however the biggest one to follow finding a site is how and who will pay for a new stadium.

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Contorno also writes that Hillsborough County officials would like to copy the deal, which was worked out by the Atlanta Braves and Cobb County, Ga. This produced the Braves new stadium SunTrust Park. While this idea may be all and good, the Rays may not be interested in doing the same.

Therefore, it boils down to taxes and contributions – increase tourist taxes, increase property taxes, increase transportation tax (increasing cost local transportation) etc… and of course how much would MLB be willing to contribute, how much Stuart Sternberg and the Rays are willing to contribute and the outside possibility of contributions from friends of Stu.

Joe Henderson of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Ybor City area is viable. I would tend to agree with Henderson as the area provides many restaurants, bars and would certainly increase attendance from the many local businesses both corporate and private. The area is also close to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s Water Street Tampa project, which could really boost attendance especially when the project is completed.

Meanwhile, MLB and the baseball owners are getting antsy with the monies that they are contributing to the Rays via revenue sharing and in particular, the owners are not sure if Tampa Bay is a viable market for baseball.

“There comes a point in time, particularly given the amount of money from both Major League Baseball and from other clubs that flows into this market, that you have to look at your alternatives if nothing gets done,” Manfred said.

Regardless, Sternberg said he remains confident — “with my heart and also with my head” — that with the right stadium plan in the proper location and increased support, the team still can be successful in the Tampa Bay market.

“Yes, or I would have bailed on this; I’ve had the opportunity to bail on it many times over the years,” Sternberg said. “I won’t say it’s a slam dunk. It’s certainly not. But all the more reason that we get it correct.”

Next: Rays Could Get Infrastructure Money for Stadium

Getting it right is imperative to the success of the Tampa Bay Rays. However, it seems that the longer we wait, the quicker MLB will make the one word decision that I do not want to hear – and that is “Relocation.”

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