Rays reopen search for new stadium location after Ybor City plan falls through

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will reopen the site search for a new ballpark after concluding plans for a stadium in Tampa’s Ybor City area can’t be finalized by this month’s deadline.

Sternberg said any new ballpark can’t open until at least 2024 and the team must start thinking about where it will play when its lease at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field ends after the 2027 season.

“We’ll continue to look in Tampa Bay and we’ll put our efforts to that,” he said during a news conference Tuesday at the winter meetings. “One way or another, we need to figure out a where the team is going to be in 2028, if not sooner. Ideally sooner. But absolutely by 2028.”

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has said the sport will not consider expansion until the Rays and Oakland Athletics get new ballparks. The A’s announced plans on Nov. 28 for a new stadium near downtown and are working to gain approvals.

Montreal and Portland, Oregon, are seeking a team.

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Tampa Bay has played since its first season in 1998 at what is now called Tropicana Field. The St. Petersburg City Council voted in early 2016 to give the Rays through December 2018 to search throughout the Tampa Bay area, and the Rays unveiled a ballpark design for Ybor City in July.

Irwin Raij, a lawyer who represents the Tampa Sports Authority, wrote to Sternberg on Dec. 5 offering 50 percent of funding, not to exceed $475 million.

Manfred responded to Raij on Tuesday with a letter saying the funding commitment, site control and timetable for completion were uncertain.

“While momentum and progress are real, we’re not close at all to a workable framework,” Sternberg said. “And while I’m widely disappointed by the result, I’m not discouraged.”

Raij said his clients were still working on their response to Manfred’s letter.

The Rays announced plans in 2007 for a new ballpark in downtown St. Petersburg on the site of Al Lang Stadium, a longtime major league spring training site, but abandoned those two years later.

The Rays bought the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a second-tier soccer team, in October and acquired a contract with St, Petersburg to control Al Lang Stadium.

“We tried with this sincerity back in 2008. We’ve done it now over the past three years,” Sternberg said. “Using a baseball term, you could say we’ve had two strikes.”