ST PETERBURG, Fla. — St. Pete businesses feel crushed by the Tampa Bay Rays announcement Friday that Tampa’s Ybor City is their number one pick for a new stadium site.
On the 81 days the Rays play at Tropicana Field businesses tell ABC Action News they can make as much as five times more on game nights versus other nights. That’s why Friday’s announcement is so painful.
Matt Bonano, the owner of Brooklyn South Sandwich Shop, says he only had one emotion when he heard the Rays may leave St. Pete, “I was angry." Just down Central Avenue Karen Porterfield, the owner of Plain Jane Clothing Boutique felt another emotion.
“I was sad. I kind of think of them as the St. Pete Rays versus the Tampa Bay Rays because they are such a big part of this town."
After 20 years in St. Pete, the business owners are finding out the Rays time at the Trop could be coming to an end.
“It's a bad anniversary present for all of us,” Bonano said with a sigh.
Ferg’s owner Mark Ferguson isn’t ready to part ways with the five times larger crowd he sees on game day.
“It would hurt us to lose them, but I’m staying positive,” he explained.
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman says the battle to keep the Rays in town, isn’t over yet.
“I think they have some significant challenges in the Ybor City area, challenges that we quite frankly don't have,” he explained adding that financing, parking and other logistics may not work out, which could draw the team back.
There is a silver lining if the Rays leave St. Pete. Without the team, the city has an open slate for the 82 acres around Tropicana Field.
In the works: Retail, shopping, office space, condos and even a large moat for kayaks around the property.
“It will be tough but they're going to redevelop the Trop site and it'll be like it's own little city,” Ferguson said. “They have an opportunity to do something really creative, 80 acres, miles of parking lot, right off the highway,” Bonano added.
The owner of Ferg’s has already made up his mind. If the Rays move to Ybor City, he’ll open another restaurant there.
“We'll start looking for a site over there!,” Ferguson explained.
Business owners say what happens next around Tropicana Field is crucial. They’re urging the city, if the rays do leave, to replace the stadium with something that will bring big crowds to the area.