ST. PETERSBURG - More than 12,000 downtown parking spaces are within a 15-minute walk to Progress Energy Park, and the Rays have their eyes on every one of them.
Plans unveiled Wednesday for a $450 million waterfront ballpark include no new on-site parking for fans.
Instead, the team has proposed using existing downtown lots and garages owned by the city and private property owners who may or may not allow their spaces to be used.
Team executives said those existing parking areas are underutilized after 5 p.m. They said most of the 81 home games will be played in the evenings.
"We know there's been a lot of talk and a lot of concerns about parking," said Michael Kalt, the Rays' senior vice president of development and business affairs. "The short answer to this concern is we think there's more than sufficient parking in the area to serve the site."
City leaders and people who live downtown aren't so sure.
"I think parking is one of the issues of the folks in downtown and that has to be evaluated by us," Mayor Rick Baker said after hearing the team's presentation.
Some residents said the parking plan may be a hard sell to the public because of perceptions that some lots, although within walking distance, still may be too far away from the new open-air stadium. There also may be confusion about where the parking is.
"I don't know how they came up with their numbers," said Joe Kubicki, St. Petersburg's transportation and parking director, adding that no formal parking plan has been submitted to the city.
Fans would become miserably hot having to hoof it from a remote parking area without the promise of a place to cool off in the open-air stadium, said Emil Pavone, president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Residents Civic Association, which represents 735 condominium units.
"It's going to be damned uncomfortable to get to that stadium from these parking spaces, if they actually exist," he said.
Some downtown merchants also had concerns about parking, but liked the idea of a waterfront ballpark potentially bringing in more customers.
"We're stoked about it. We'd really like to have it," said Spencer Smallwood, a manager at Midtown Sundries restaurant, a few blocks from the proposed site. "They just have to figure out the parking situation. That's about the only problem I'd see with it."
Team representatives said the parking plan is part of the fan experience the Rays hope to create. Using existing spaces, they said, would bring more energy, street life and dollars to downtown.
"What we're trying to create is an atmosphere where we benefit the downtown growth and vice versa," Kalt said. "It's much easier to do that if fans are out on the streets, if they're walking through downtown, if they're stopping to shop, to eat or get a drink and, really, knitting the ballpark into the fabric of the surrounding area."
Similar parking plans that rely on remote parking areas around ballparks have proved successful in other cities, including Baltimore, Cleveland and San Diego, said Kalt and Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's chief operating officer.
"You allow people to dissipate on foot to their lots so you don't feel that centralized traffic impact," Kalt said. "We think it's a very manageable issue."