Of Course the Rays Chose Ybor City for Their New Ballpark and Here’s Why

By Michael English, A.I.C.P.

Personally, I would be just as happy if the Rays built an exciting new stadium right next to the Trop, and celebrated the old and the new before demoing an obsolete building that feels and smells like a high school gym. But, they apparently really believe it is locational access and rooftops within a certain radius, and not the building, that is the source of their problems.

So why Ybor City? Well, as we now know, the organization looked at a number of locations, including three or four in the Ybor City/Channel District area. The south Ybor City location was the only one that has (so far) worked out.

Think about the impact of a downtown area Tampa baseball park! Imagine driving into town, looking out over downtown Tampa’s Channel District that already includes many cultural amenities, dramatic Port views, and new modern urban residences. You admire the city’s growing skyline and you now see a brand new, innovative and architecturally inspiring baseball stadium full of fans, surrounded by commercial, office and retail development, alongside the historic fabric of Ybor City’s heritage.

The proposed location, a 14-plus acre site on the southern edge of Ybor City, near the northern tip of downtown’s Channel District is located between East Fourth Avenue and Adamo Drive to the north and south and 15th Street and Channelside Drive to the east and west; an area awaiting redevelopment for years.

The debate for location has been an ongoing discussion for years. Should the Rays stay in St. Pete? Should they move to Tampa? Both areas have pros and cons, but the one thing that everyone agrees on is that the baseball team needs a new stadium if they are to stay relevant and prosper. Tropicana Field’s construction began in 1986 in an effort to lure a Major League Baseball (MLB) team to the area. The stadium, completed in 1990, was designed and built on a budget and  finally received a baseball team in1995; when MLB expanded to the Tampa Bay area. The existing stadium is now architecturally obsolete and will never attract the crowds needed to boost attendance.

I think the Rays do want to be in Ybor City. Their top criterion for a new stadium was better access to fans; and this site sits at the center of a densely populated region with easy connections to highly populated areas including Pinellas County, Brandon, Lakeland, and even Orlando. Ybor City seems to be the right choice. The area is in close proximity to downtown Tampa and access to fans by both surface and expressway roads and several existing transit systems. The Rays believe this location, with much better locational access and an exciting new stadium, will dramatically improve the historically low attendance rates at home games.

The proposed site is adjacent to the TECO Line Streetcar System (which is currently planning an expansion), right off the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and less than a mile from I-275. With Union Station close by, residents from Orlando could conceivably travel to the games by train. The revival of the Cross Bay Ferry experiment earlier this year is already in discussion, so attending a game by water may also be feasible.

As many fans of the Ray’s current stadium can attest, traffic issues often cause you to arrive late and make you want to leave early to avoid the road congestion. Getting into and out of the stadium is not terrible but also not easy. Additionally, even though Tropicana Field has a limited view of the water, it has no streetcars, limited restaurants, bars, and shops within walking distance—created in part by acres of surface parking. Historically, they are not attracting enough fans, only an average of 15,633 per game. The Rays finished last in MLB home attendance for the third consecutive season. Don’t misunderstand me, the Rays ownership and management are very talented and community-oriented and they’ve done a lot with limited resources. But, at the end of the day, the St. Pete ballpark lacks the sizzle required to attract enough fans, and is not in a prime location.

Today, successful ballparks and arenas are community hubs during the season, as well as in the offseason. Rays ownership and management certainly has that vision—a desire to be in the middle of a dynamic, year-round urban city center. Fans, patrons and locals get together before and after games for food and entertainment. Rooftop views, restaurants, retail, bars, and easier, efficient commutes, all attract and increase attendance. If the Rays want to be in Tampa’s urban center, Ybor City has everything they need and more….and a win/win for everyone!