Rays hope to build new stadium

Updated: November 28, 2007, 8:29 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It's been a busy month for the Tampa Bay Rays.

First, they modified their nickname, adopted new team colors and changed the design of their uniforms. Now, they want to build a $450 million open-air waterfront stadium with a retractable roof.

The club formally unveiled plans Wednesday to replace Tropicana Field with a 34,000-seat ballpark that would go up on the downtown site of Al Lang Field, where the franchise currently plays spring training games.

The Rays would pay about a third of the cost, with much of the rest hinging on the sale and redevelopment of Tropicana Field and the land surrounding the domed stadium that opened in 1990 -- eight years before the expansion Rays played their first game.

Local voters would also have to OK the use of the Al Lang site. And the team would also like the Florida Legislature to kick in about $30 million.

"This is not going to be an easy production. ... Things that have value in life rarely are easy. They come from hard work and determination," said principal owner Stuart Sternberg, who took control of the club after the 2005 season.

"The Rays recognize the hard work that is ahead of us, and we welcome it. We have spent the past two years putting this organization in a position to succeed. We look forward to an open process and we are determined to make this a reality," he said.

If all goes according to plan, the new stadium would open in 2012 and feature a roof comprised of light weatherproof fabric that could be opened or closed in six to eight minutes. But unlike most facilities with retractible tops, this one would retain an open-air feel at all times because the roof would sit flush on the upper deck.

"It basically lets fans have the best of both worlds in terms of protection from the elements on one hand and maintaining an open-air feel and being out on the waterfront," said Michael Kalt, Rays senior vice president of development and business affairs.

Sternberg and team president Matt Silverman were joined at a news conference by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who grew up in and has lived most of his life in St. Petersburg, where he has a downtown residence that would overlook the proposed ballpark.

"Those would be the cheap seats, Stuart," he joked, pointing to his building in an artist's rendering.

The governor said earlier this month that he thinks the state should try to figure out a way to help the Rays with the project.

"It's not to be underestimated what the sports industry does for Florida. ... To have these teams continue to produce so much for our fellow Floridians is awfully important to me as governor," Crist said Wednesday.

"It's not just for the owners and players, it's for all of us. ... I know at the state level we have some financial challenges. But I also know we need to continue to find ways to stimulate this great economy," he said.

Kalt reiterated that the team thinks it can build the stadium without diverting any existing tax money or seeking new taxes. But much depends on the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site into a residential buildings with shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.

"The three questions that everyone has on this project, and will continue having, is: How are you going to pay for it? Where are we going to park? And is it going to be miserably hot in the building?" Kalt said.

He added that a lot of the financing plan will be determined by the value of the redeveloped Tropicana Field site.

"What we do know is we've done our own homework," Kalt said. "We believe that the combination of what we think we can privately from the Rays put toward the [stadium], the value of the Trop site and a small contribution from the state ... we believe this project can and will work."

Current plans call for about $30 million in state tax dollars.

The Rays will also have to quell concerns about traffic and parking, although Kalt said the latter should not be a problem because there are more than 12,000 spaces available within a 15-minute walk of the proposed stadium.

"We don't expect anything from anybody at this point," Sternberg said about support the club will need from the state legislature.

"It's our job to go out there and tell a great story, show that the numbers work and show this is a benefit. We would hope and anticipate that there will be some help in pitching in and funding," he said.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press