Josh Lowe spent much of his youth cheering for the Braves and saw how vibrant the atmosphere was outside Truist Park after it opened in 2017. Sure, people came for baseball, but they also showed up to enjoy restaurants, cafes and the like that built up around the ballpark.
That’s the idea behind a $6.5-billion, 86-acre mixed-use site in St. Petersburg that is expected to include residential units, hotel rooms, eateries and office space. Construction on the centerpiece of the development, a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays, is expected to begin by the end of 2024.
“I grew up a Braves fan and you look at how different things were when they went from Turner Field to Truist Park and The Battery,” said Lowe, who starred at Pope High School in Marietta, about 15 miles from the stadium, and is now starring for the Rays. “There is a lot of other stuff (built around the stadium) and, I guess, that is the same idea that they want to do here. Building up around the stadium and making the stadium something that is not only just for baseball during the season, but in the offseason host different events.”
Tuesday morning, the Rays, the city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County announced an agreement to move ahead with a $1.3-billion 30,000-seat stadium that is to be built adjacent to the team’s current venue, Tropicana Field. The team is expected to pay roughly $700 million toward the stadium with the city and county covering the rest.
The Rays’ current lease at Tropicana Field expires following the 2027 season. A 30-year lease will accompany occupancy in the new stadium, which is expected to be ready for the 2028 season.
“Obviously, for the team and the community itself, and growing up a Rays fan, I think this city deserves a new stadium,” said Zach Eflin, who often made the roughly two-hour drive with his family from Oviedo, outside Orlando, to see his beloved Rays. “It’s pretty overdue to get something going here. The community has come so far since I was a kid (going to games) here in St. Pete. I think it’s a really exciting day for us as players, staff, organization and the city of St. Petersburg.”
Stu Sternberg joined the then-Devil Rays as a general partner in 2004 and became the principal owner following the 2005 season. Much has since changed within the region in terms development and growth on both sides of Tampa Bay.
“This region, and especially this city, are growing up around us and we are better equipped to support a Major League Baseball team,” he said.
Sternberg was not always singing that tune. It was June 2019 at the Dali Museum on St. Petersburg’s waterfront that he touted a split-city plan with half the games in a new stadium in St. Pete and half in Montreal. While he maintained it was not a ploy to gain leverage with the city, the proposal was a very complicated one, to say the least. MLB nixed the idea in January 2022.
At times over the past few years there has also been talk of relocating across the bay to Tampa, which is the region’s population center. Lack of progress, though, sabotaged multiple proposals before they could gain much, if any, steam.
In January of this year, St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch selected the Rays and their development partner, Hines, a privately-owned real estate investment, development and management firm, to repurpose the 86-acre Tropicana Field site, the former Historic Gas Plant District.
While this is not a done deal as hurdles still need to be scaled – the plan has to be approved by city council and the county commission – at least things are moving at a pace not previously experienced during years of stadium talk that began when Sternberg proposed a new waterfront stadium on the site of St. Pete’s Al Lang Stadium in 2007.
“I am happy for the Tampa Bay area,” said manager Kevin Cash, a Tampa native who played for the Rays and is in his ninth season managing the club. “I am most happy for the people who have worked so hard in this organization, top to bottom, that have kind of committed every day to getting this accomplished. Look forward to hearing more details as they unfold.”