The Tampa Bay Rays' plan to have a split season with the city of Montreal has been killed by Major League Baseball.
Team owner Stu Sternberg held a press conference Thursday afternoon to address the new development.
Statement from the Tampa Bay Rays regarding Sister City Baseball plan: pic.twitter.com/N9tA1CTeED
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) January 20, 2022
He said he was devastated the proposal had been killed and said the organization would have to regroup to see what happens next.
"Today's news is flat out deflating," Sternberg said. "Major League Baseball's executive council has decided to end our Tampa Bay-Montreal sister-city plan."
He said he has no doubt the sister city concept will one day become accepted in all of professional sports, but MLB isn't ready to cross that threshold right now.
"It was all in for this plan I can tell you that," Sternberg said. "Going forward we're gonna regroup and see where things are and we'll consider a number of things I'm sure as time goes by."
Dear Rays Fans,— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) January 20, 2022
⁰⁰For more than two decades, the Rays have proudly served as Tampa Bay’s hometown team, supporting our community and uplifting our growing region. Our priorities are to win baseball games and keep the team in Tampa Bay for generations to come.
The question now becomes: what happens when the plan the ownership was all in on falls through?
"We'll see how the stands look this year and the support we get and you know that's gonna help inform us as well going forward on our plans," he said.
The City of Tampa, Hillsborough County, and team ownership showed mutual interest in 2017 to move the Rays to Ybor City. In 2020, plans to build a new stadium near Channelside Drive and Adamo Drive were revisited.
"If that's the site that works, fantastic," Dr. Bob Rohrlack, CEO of the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, said. "There are a lot of ways to get there that could work out."
"They would sell a lot more tickets," Rays fan Harrison Hodges said. "Look at the Lightning. Every Lightning game sells out because it's close. The drive across the bridge and back for people in Tampa is a bit much."
However, not every Rays fan wants to see their team cross over the bridge.
"I just think we should stay right where we are," Jeri McCullough said. "I love them."
Instead, McCullough suggests renovating Tropicana Field and building up the franchise's history in St. Petersburg.
"Keep with what you have," she said. "If it's not broke, don't fix it just modify it."
The last thing any Rays fan wants is for Sternberg to permanently move the team. But when asked about finding a different market outside of Tampa Bay altogether, Sternberg said relocation wasn't on his mind.
"Never say never but it's not anything I'm thinking about," Sternberg said.
He also touted the fact that he "never threatened to move the team," saying that's it's done all the time and he could have threatened to do it, but felt it wouldn't be fair to the fan base.
"For us to lose that major league team, it would be absolutely ludicrous," Rays fan Sheila Elliott said.
When asked about what the biggest hurdle to finding a location in the Tampa Bay Area for a stadium was, Sternberg said "the most important thing was and still remains the support we see from sponsors, from organizations, from companies, from groups and from attendance."
The controversial sister city idea received blowback both from fans in the Tampa Bay Area and baseball fans nationwide.
Sternberg announced in the summer of 2019 that the team would look to play half of its home games in the Tampa Bay Area and half in Montreal, with new open-air stadiums being built in each city.
He had previously said the Montreal sister city plan was the only way to keep baseball in the Tampa Bay Area.
Tampa Bay's lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg is up after the 2027 season and what to do after that has been hotly debated for years in the region.
Plans for the development of the Trop site both with and without the Rays have been tossed around, with a developer selected by former Mayor Rick Kriseman last month.
Since then, Ken Welch has taken over as St. Pete Mayor and issued the following statement after learning the split season plan was dead:
“We are working with our county partners and City Council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals. With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor also weighed in on the news with the following statement:
"All along our goal has been to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay. We had been working on both sister city and full season proposals, and now we can focus all of our energy on a full season.
I am optimistic the Rays will call Tampa Bay home for many years to come."
FULL CIRCLE: The uncertain future of the Tampa Bay Rays
Proposals for various sites have been introduced over the years on both sides of the bay, including most recently a stadium in Ybor city.
One of the biggest issues surrounding the stadium debate is the cost, and how much the team expects taxpayers to shell out to pay for it.
Folks who work and live in Ybor city have long imagined a Ray’s baseball park.
“I’ve supported it since I was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce here,” said Travis Horn, a past chairman on the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, and current President of Ybor business Bullhorn Communications. “I think the location is right, the question mark that still remains is who is going to pay for it?”
Horn’s office is a 4 minute drive from the old K-force property at East 7th and Nebraska. Across the street a sign is hung up on the fence that says “Raybor, the future home of the rays.” It’s a spot Hillsborough County Commissioner, Ken Hagan, says the Rays have shifted their focus to.
“As Mr. Sternberg said today, they would be willing to consider other areas but I think all the numbers and all the demographics suggest that Ybor city offers the best location for the Rays to be sustainable and remain here for generations to come,” said Hagan. He added funding ideas are in the works. “We’re doing a very thorough analysis and doing our due diligence on a number of things, but primarily the cost of the project, which is not only the ballpark itself, but the land acquisition, the infrastructure associated with, but additionally the revenue that can be generated from the growth and development that will occur around the ballpark, to the revenue that can be generated within the ball park itself.”
He says that includes coming up with creative financial options like user fees, a CDD or entertainment district around the ballpark to protect tax payers.
Horn also had an idea.
“I’ve had this idea, if you look at some other communities and what they’ve done in the past, not very many but some have carved out a piece of the ownership for the community,” he said. “So, maybe if you say the community is going to benefit from it, and maybe you come in and say lets give them a piece of the ownership, not anything that’s a majority that is going to be a problem bargaining with the leagues, but a little bit of ownership so the community sees they do in fact own part of the team.”
Hagan says the county is hoping to have a credible proposal within the next few months.