ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays start their 2014 season Monday promising fans a new viewing experience at the Trop.
The team on Friday unveiled more than $1 million of stadium upgrades to Tropicana Field, including Rays 360, a 360-degree walkway above the lower seating bowl that means fans for the first time may walk around the field without using the concourse.
The walkway is lined with a drinks rail, so fans can stop at any point to watch the action on the field.
“It allows fans to get out of their seats and enjoy baseball, enjoy great Rays baseball at different spots all along the field,” said Melanie Lenz, Rays vice president of development.
Also new this season is The Porch in Centerfield, a new patio area behind the former Batter’s Eye. Previously the site of the Everglades BBQ Smokehouse, the patio is open to all fans and features a 46-foot-long bar and concessions.
“It will be a popular spot,” said Lenz. “Now you don’t have to go down and lose contact with the game to get your hot dog or soda.”
Creating the walkway meant taking out about 3,000 seats, which will lower capacity to about 31,000. It also will make it easier for fans to find their seats, Lenz said.
Rather than lose one restaurant, the Everglades has been combined with the Brewhouse and is now named the Everglades Brewhouse.
New menu items include fried baloney sliders and smoked beef brisket Reuben, as well as traditional favorites like pork nachos.
“We hate to lose the restaurant but we all agree it’s going to make the experience so much better,” said Marc Spooner, Rays executive chef.
The city of St. Petersburg, which owns the Trop, agreed in November to contribute $1.3 million toward stadium improvements, which also include renovated bathrooms, new safety handrails and replacement of parking lot lights.
Now in their 17th season at the Trop, the Rays have made no secret that they want to leave the facility because of poor attendance. The team has a contract with the city to play there until 2027. Team owners recently met with Mayor Rick Kriseman to resume negotiations that stalled while previous Mayor Bill Foster was in office.
“We’ve always said Tropicana Field is not a long-term solution for us, but we feel that every chance we get to upgrade that fan experience while we’re here at Tropicana Field is important,” Lenz said.