The Rays held a long-awaited press conference today to announce the team’s plans for a new ballpark in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa, Florida, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports in a still-developing story. While hurdles still remain for making the vision a reality, it’s certainly an encouraging moment for the organization and supporters of baseball in the region.
Since beginning play in 1998, the then-Devil Rays have utilized Tropicana Field as a home park. The domed facility has long drawn criticism for its inconvenient location, among other demerits, and the club has never drawn particularly well.
Of course, poor attendance is now a leaguewide concern. And it’s an issue that has plagued the Rays’ neighbors to the south, the Marlins, even since they got a shiny new ballpark. The Tampa Bay organization is surely hoping to avoid some of the pitfalls from that experience.
The design unveiled today is for a cozy and quite unusual facility with a total capacity that would max out at 30,842 paying visitors (with 28,216 fixed seats). That would make it the smallest MLB park in existence.
Architecturally, the plan is unique: a fixed, translucent roof with flourishes that evoke the manta ray that originally inspired the team’s nickname and still features in its logos. Sliding glass walls would also allow natural light while permitting partial exposure to the outside elements, though unfortunately grass is not considered compatible with the approach. At first glance, it seems a rather appealing means of balancing local peculiarities with a classic ballpark experience, though it’s certainly not a design that will be loved by purists. (Some images are available at the above link.)
Of course, the Marlins Park troubles aren’t really related to ballpark design so much as financial and political considerations. Public financing will be a hot topic surrounding the Rays’ prospective facility, no doubt, with supplemental economic opportunities representing an important element.
As John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times explains, in a nice overview of the broader situation, the general circumstances seem favorable to finally getting something done, but the dollars and cents remain a looming obstacle. Club president Brian Auld acknowledges, regarding financing, that the team still does not “have those answers yet,” as Topkin adds (Twitter links). Preliminary estimates are that the new park would cost $892MM to install.