The city of St. Petersburg and the Area Chamber of Commerce have launched a campaign called "Baseball Forever" that aims to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg by building a brand new ballpark for the team. The proposed site is adjacent to Tropicana Field, the team's current home stadium and will also include a mixed use development similar to Ballpark Village at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The brand new development will feature retail space, offices, hotels, new parking, bars and restaurants. The entire project will be financed with tourist development taxes, and funds from both the Tampa Bay Rays organization and the city of St. Petersburg. Baseball Forever has reiterated that area residents should not have to pay a higher rate of taxes in order to help pay for a new stadium. The Tampa Bay Rays have the ability to pursue other stadium sites in the area until December 2018 and have a lease signed with Tropicana Field through the 2027 Major League Baseball season.
No part of the proposal, however, addresses the team's poor attendance records over the years. The Rays often boast some of the lowest attendance numbers year in and year out, even during seasons in which they make the playoffs. The million dollar question is whether or not attendance would increase if the team played their home games in Tampa Bay and closer to it's downtown area. St. Petersburg is a solid 35-45 minute drive from downtown Tampa Bay. The distance limits the number of Tampa Bay area businesses that would purchase club and luxury seating for Rays home games. Many large corporations will purchase club and luxury seating to entertain their clients and provide perks to employees.
Another question that would later need to be addressed is whether or not the new stadium would need a retractable roof. The construction of a retractable roof would greatly increase the amount of money needed to build the stadium. Like the rest of Florida, Tampa Bay experiences intense heat during the summer months and frequent rains. Frequent rains increase the likelihood of rain delays, slowing down the game and the heat can hinder attendance for day games. The Miami Marlins made a point to implement a retractable roof when they constructed Marlins Park, which opened in 2012. The Rays and their fan base currently don't have to worry about the weather since Tropicana Field is completely enclosed. However, an enclosed stadium provides no opportunity for Rays fans to enjoy the summer weather during baseball season. As they say, it's all about the consumer!
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