Stuart Sternberg began Tuesday’s news conference at Tropicana Field with a wink to the past.
“I’m here today,” the Rays’ owner said, “to announce a brand-new ballpark on the waterfront with a sail …”
The audience laughed. They knew. The Rays have been down this path before, pitching park after park in spot after spot until finally, some 16 years into their search for a new stadium, striking a deal to stay right where they are.
“2007 is well in the past,” Sternberg said. “We’re up to 2023 now.”
There was a time when few, including some with the Rays, thought St. Petersburg would ever be the team’s best option for a long-term home. Smaller than Tampa, and harder to reach from population centers in east Pasco and western Polk counties, it’s still the second-smallest city with a Major League stadium, behind the Atlanta Braves’ ballpark in suburban Cumberland, Georgia.
But as anyone who’s spent time navigating cones and cranes downtown can tell you, St. Petersburg has changed a lot since the team first pitched that sail-topped park on the site of Al Lang Stadium. Back then, the Sundial was still called BayWalk, the Pier was still an upside-down pyramid and the modern Tampa Bay Rowdies didn’t exist. There wasn’t even one craft brewery. Today, the city is an arts and dining destination dotted with new, high-end residential buildings.
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