Rays’ proposal would add sunshine, palm trees and a nearby creek to ballpark

ST. PETERSBURG — An open-air baseball stadium in Florida in the summer doesn’t work. A retractable roof is expensive and can chew up too much space and scenery.

So where does that leave a potential ballpark in St. Pete?

If the Rays have their way, with a concept and design unlike anything else in Major League Baseball today.

A designer with Populous and a structural engineer with Walter P. Moore offered the Tampa Bay Times a glimpse on Tuesday of the preliminary plans for a new stadium on the Tropicana Field site that is part of a bid with Hines that is among four development pitches St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is considering.

The idea is a ballpark that offers a more flexible fan experience than a traditional bleacher seat you sit in for nine innings. The stadium would have windows and movable doorways to promote an outside/in — or inside/out — feel to the building, and fans will be able to wander throughout the stadium.

While the centerfield dining area at Tropicana Field has been transformed in recent years to more of a food hall concept, the new stadium design would enhance that by turning the back wall into windows and doorways that would allow ticket holders to step in and out of the ballpark.

“It’s not so much about opening up to the sky,” Populous principal Zach Allee said. “We want to invest in our views out and bringing the community in.”

The plan is still in its early stages, so the design could change, but the current renderings show several levels of seating that would include outdoor terraces that fans could utilize before, during or after games.

“Everyone would love to have outdoor baseball here in Tampa, but it’s just not feasible with our weather and lightning. We would have more games missed than played,” said Walter P. Moore senior project manager Dylan Richard. “This will allow you to be inside and still be able to feel like you’re outdoors and experiencing baseball.”

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has been insistent on a more intimate feel to a stadium, which means capacity will likely be in the 30,000 range, making it the smallest ballpark in the majors.

But those 30,000 tickets would not necessarily be traditional row seating with armrests or entire levels of luxury suites. Instead, there will be different versions of table seating, living room-like boxes, bar seating and standing-room only sections.

The stadium would be built on the east side of the current Tropicana Field property and is designed to integrate with the live/work/play concept of the multiuse development.

“We’ve been exploring ideas of third base being what we have called a park/concourse,” said Allee. “We’ve looked at designing the concourse, really, like a city sidewalk. So the Rays have been open to having it open on non-game days so people can walk around and engage.

“On one side you’ll be able to look out and see Booker Creek and parks and palm trees, and on the other side you’ll be able to look out and see the field.”

The roof, at its peak, would be about 270 feet above the playing surface and would taper down to 135 feet at the edges over the seating areas. With the installation of StatCast cameras around every park, Richard said designers have been able to track the trajectory of every batted ball in MLB to avoid the Trop’s catwalk issues.

While Tropicana Field was something of an island when it was being built on the Historic Gas Plant district in the late 1980s, the Rays envision a new stadium being the centerpiece of a new community and destination spot just outside of downtown St. Pete.

“It’s really incredible to think about designing a Wrigleyville at the same time as Wrigley Field,” said Allee. “How cool is that?”

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