Final Standoff: Tampa Bay Rays and St. Pete Face Off Over 86 Acres

An outside view of Tropicana Field just before the Opening Day game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles on April 2, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
An outside view of Tropicana Field just before the Opening Day game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles on April 2, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images) /

Tropicana Field sits atop 86 acres of land ripe for redevelopment, but with tensions rising and relationships deteriorating between the Tampa Bay Rays and the city, the land may remain untouched for the foreseeable future.

It is a battle for a new home that has lasted the better part of a decade. It has turned the Tampa Bay Rays‘ organization against a city and a fanbase against an owner. But, this decade long battle centered around an ironclad contract and an outdated dome between the city of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays quite possibly just arrived at its final standoff. 

After nearly 12 years of back and forth, the future of the Rays in St. Petersburg or the Tampa Bay Area for that matter could come down to 86 acres of land. Yes, you read that right. The future of major league baseball in Tampa Bay, a region abundant with baseball history, could come down a parcel of land. Here’s why:

The events of the past eight months have proven critical to the 86 acres of land and its newfound importance. While there has always been a sense of tension between the Rays’ ownership group and the city of St. Petersburg regarding the contract that stipulates the Rays must play all home games in Tropicana Field through the 2027 season, the sense of tension has turned into a truly unfathomable and real tension.

Split-Season Plan

This past June, the Rays unveiled a plan to split their home games between the Tampa Bay Area and the city of Montreal. This plan was not only met with utter dismay from their fanbase but also  the city of St. Petersburg. At the time of the announcement, Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg believed that the 2024 season was the earliest the plan could be deemed feasible.

After months of discussions, disagreements, and contentious negotiations, Mayor Kriseman released a statement in which he essentially killed the split season plan. In his memo, Kriseman stressed that the Rays would have to abide by the current contract and that the city would not entertain the idea of parting ways with roughly 40 home games. Instead, if the Rays wanted to explore the Montreal idea, they would have to do so following the 2027 season.

While Kriseman had expressed interest in the concept of building a new stadium in St. Petersburg with the help of public tax dollars, he would not entertain the idea of spending tax dollars on a part-time venue.

Also included in Kriseman’s memo was this statement:

"Please also know that team officials have declined my offer, made in the spirit of regionalism, to renew the recent Memorandum of Understanding that had allowed the Rays to explore future full-time stadium locations throughout the Tampa Bay Region, including Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa."

After years of negotiations and back and forth, the Tropicana Field debacle had reached a tipping point. The city had killed the split-city proposal and the Rays had seemingly killed any chance of a future stadium site being chosen in the region. Both parties used whatever leverage they had left. Or so we thought…

Fast forward to January of this year and we arrive at the climax of this decade long dance. Per the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays recently informed the city of St. Petersburg that they would hold up any attempts to redevelop any of the land surrounding the “Trop” through the 2027 season.

The contract may be ironclad in its wording regarding the Rays and where they can play home games through the 2027 season, but it isn’t nearly as ironclad regarding the redevelopment of the land surrounding Tropicana Field. While the contract does indeed bind the Rays to the city through 2027, it also effectively binds the city and its land to the Rays organization though the end of the contract.

The contract’s wording is vague enough that the Rays believe they can halt the redevelopment of any of the 86 acres and have informed city council members they intend to do so through the end of their contract.

The Rays’ Final Stand?

This is the final standoff. Ironic, is it not?

After years and years of discussions, the Rays future in the region will come down to controlling the land they have so desperately tried to escape for the better half of their existence.

If the spilt-season proposal back in June didn’t spoil their relationship with the city, this likely already has. The 86 acres of land that the Rays are now, in essence, holding hostage is extremely valuable to the city and crucial to their future plans involving the downtown region.

Kriseman ran on redeveloping the site and bringing economic growth to the region and the Rays just jeopardized that. Don’t expect either party to back down from this fight, a fight that could span the final eight years of the deal.

With 2028 comes a fresh start for the franchise, unless, that is, they can come to terms with the city. if they don’t, they will be a free-agent team in search of a new stadium, in a new city, playing host to a new fanbase.

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