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Rays Park plan big on ambition, short on funding answers

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:45 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

A St. Petersburg developer Friday rolled back the curtains on his plan for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium and unveiled a Carillon ballpark with either a retractable roof or a fixed transparent one.

CityScape LLC’s presentation to the St. Petersburg City Council, however, didn’t specify how to pay for the stadium, which might cost up to $577 million. CityScape executive Darryl LeClair said it would be presumptuous to detail his financing plan, because he doesn’t know how much the Rays would kick in.

Despite the unknowns, St. Petersburg leaders seemed excited by CityScape’s concept, which would surround the stadium with retail shops, up to 1,000 apartments and office buildings.

Mayor Bill Foster said all those extra businesses and housing units could generate money for a stadium, lessening the need for public tax dollars.

"The cost does not need to be borne by the taxpayers," Foster said. "That’s what makes this exciting."

Council chair Leslie Curran seemed relieved that CityScape has finally gotten the ball rolling on the stadium. The city and the Rays have been at an impasse for more than two years. The team has said it cannot stay at Tropicana Field until its contract expires in 2027.

"Hopefully, the conversations can get started," she said. "The clock’s ticking, now."

The Rays, though, were noncommittal Friday. After CityScape’s presentation, Rays development executive Michael Kalt declined to give his opinion on what he’d seen.

"We’re glad people are taking an active interest in baseball in the Tampa Bay area," Kalt said.

LeClair and his CityScape team have kept a tight wrap on his Carillon stadium plan for some 18 months, to the point of requiring people who’d seen it to sign nondisclosure agreements. He finally unveiled his vision for The Rays Park at Carillon at a special City Council meeting Friday afternoon at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park.

Land records show he controls about 12 acres in Carillon just south of the Publix supermarket, exceedingly small for a Major League Baseball stadium. However, his plan could use up to 23 acres if he gets permission to tear down the Publix and other nearby businesses and rebuild them in his new mixed-use development. An alternate plan could use 17 acres.

Among the elements being considered for The Rays Park at Carillon:

(bullet) A 35,000-seat stadium that could feature either a fixed or retractable roof. Home plate would be on the south side of the property and the outfield to the north. An office building would be incorporated into the stadium structure so office workers could look out over home plate and watch a game. Parking could be designed so that people could get out of their cars and go up a flight or two to their luxury suites.

(bullet) A transparent roof. Getting sunlight into the ballpark is key, so CityScape’s plan suggests a roof that uses a transparent material called ETFE. The stadium's back wall also could use the transparent material, allowing people outside the stadium to look in.

(bullet) Retail and other uses. The Rays Park at Carillon would be a mixed-use project incorporating 800 to 1,000 apartments flanking the property and to its north. CityScape is proposing apartments because the condominium market isn’t strong enough yet, CityScape executive Chris Eastman said. Other uses could include a live music venue, offices and retail.

Making the roof retractable is the most expensive option, with a total stadium cost of $577 million. A slightly less expensive option, at $548 million, would include a fixed roof made out of the transparent material. The least expensive stadium would be an open-air one, which CityScape estimates costing $424 million. The developer advises against it because of Florida’s climate.

CityScape has lined up some of the biggest names in stadium design and construction to help develop its plans. Hunt Construction Group of Indianapolis, which built Raymond James Stadium and the new Marlins Park in Miami, provided construction expertise. Architecture firm HKS Inc., which designed the new Cowboys Stadium among others, provided the designs.

The team spent much of Friday’s meeting trying to convince the St. Petersburg City Council and others that Carillon is the right place for a new ballpark. Despite concerns about parking, Eastman insisted that Carillon has plenty of parking, even during rare weekday games during business hours.

Located along Ulmerton Road just over the Howard Frankland Bridge, Carillon has about 14,800 parking spaces in its various garages and surface lots. CityScape proposes escorting fans from their cars to the ballpark with Busch Gardens-style trams.

The property also is the most centrally located stadium site in Pinellas County, boasting a greater population within a 30-minute drive than two other potential stadium sites, Tampa’s Channelside and Dale Mabry areas, CityScape says. Carillon has about 1.14 million people within a 30-minute drive at the peak drive time of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. By comparison, the Dale Mabry area has 1.13 million and Channelside has 1.04 million, CityScape data show.

"The bottom line of what this means is more butts in seats," said Steven Kurcan, another CityScape official.

CityScape’s drive-time figures are at odds with a Tribune review of potential stadium sites, which suggested the Mid-Pinellas/Carillon area has fewer people than some top Hillsborough County sites. In 2010, the Tribune used a demographics and mapping database called ESRI to determine that downtown Tampa had the greatest population within a 30-minute drive, about 1.66 million people. Tampa’s West Shore area was next, with 1.61 million, and the Mid-Pinellas/Carillon area came in third with 1.57 million people.

Eastman said there may be a disparity because CityScape looked at 30-minute drive-time population in a very specific time frame, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., which can be different from a full-day population.

The elephant in the room Friday wasn’t population or parking, but who would pay for a stadium.

 After his presentation, LeClair chatted with reporters inside the Hilton’s main ballroom. He declined to speculate about financing possibilities, and he pointed reporters toward a study that leaders of Tampa and St. Petersburg’s chambers of commerce are doing on stadium financing. That study is due to be released shortly.

LeClair’s colleague at CityScape, Susan Johnson, said CityScape can answer two of the three major questions about a Carillon stadium, namely whether it has enough space for a ballpark and whether it can find enough parking. She said yes to both.

 But, "Can you pay for it?" she told the crowd. "The last question remaining."

 

 


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