Saturday, May 19, 2018
Business

Parking would be a challenge for Rays stadium proposal at Carillon

ST. PETERSBURG — In New York, baseball fans ride the subway to Yankee Stadium. In Chicago, they hop the El.

But in Tampa Bay, major league baseball will always depend on people arriving by car — a challenge for a stadium idea floated this week for Carillon Business Park.

Office buildings, condominiums and wetlands already occupy most of Carillon's 432 acres, with limited space remaining for new surface parking.

Heavily traveled Ulmerton Road and Roosevelt Boulevard provide the only ways in and out.

By contrast, the Tampa Bay Rays' current venue at Tropicana Field offers multiple approaches and plenty of on-street parking within walking distance.

Developer Darryl LeClair, who wants to pitch the Carillon idea to the St. Petersburg City Council, will not talk publicly about construction, traffic, parking or financing — even though his business team has quietly hammered out details for months.

But people familiar with the site say any stadium project would require LeClair's corporate neighbors to share their parking spaces. Office workers parking by day would be replaced by baseball fans at night and on weekends.

"Obviously, that is the only way it works in Carillon,'' said Clearwater business executive Alan Bomstein, who served on the ABC Coalition, a group of civic leaders who studied stadium possibilities.

"You have to do shared parking. Somebody would have to figure out the logistics. How do you get 12,000 cars out of Carillon and 12,000 cars in within the same time frame? It's probably not a deal breaker, but you would have to figure it out.''

The Rays, who want to leave the Trop, said this week that they have not discussed the proposal with LeClair. They reiterated that they will not discuss any new St. Petersburg stadium sites unless the city allows them to explore Hillsborough sites as well.

But in 2008, the Rays hired Lakeland traffic and parking consultants Rummel, Kepper & Kahl, who examined Carillon and other potential sites.

That study, now public record, gave Carillon high marks for its proximity to high-capacity I-275, Ulmerton and Roosevelt. But there were caveats.

A stadium presumably would need the use of neighboring companies' parking. Carillon contained roughly 14,000 office and commercial spaces in 2008. That's just about what baseball teams estimate would be needed for a 34,000-seat sellout.

The ABC Coalition also noted that Carillon has some vacant land, suitable for temporary parking for about 3,000 cars.

The Tampa Bay Times contacted Raymond James, Franklin Templeton Investments and Transamerica Financial, three of Carillon's largest employers. None would comment.

The 2008 Rays' study also raised questions about Ulmerton Road. Westbound traffic "would require left turns into (the) site, which would conflict with high eastbound traffic volumes on Ulmerton,'' the study said.

Frustrated Tampa fans might be tempted to park in spaces on the north side of Ulmerton and hoof it in, the study said.

"It could be quite challenging to control fans crossing this major 10-lane roadway. Due to the flat terrain, it may also be difficult to convince fans to use a pedestrian bridge, even if one were constructed.''

What about day games? Major league teams usually play about 15 a year. Office workers and baseball fans would all pack into Carillon at once.

Most likely, shuttles would have to import fans from temporary parking outside of Carillon, the study suggested. It mentioned the Sod Farm on 28th Street and the old Toytown landfill off 16th Street as possibilities.

At the Trop or in downtown Tampa, fans willing to walk can find free parking. With no safe way to walk into Carillon, they would be forced to pay to park.

At $15 a car, bonded out for 30 years, that could — theoretically — generate as much as $100 million toward stadium construction. But the corporations sharing their lots would want a slice, and so would the Rays.

Forcing steep parking prices on fans would also reduce attendance unless the Rays drop ticket prices to compensate. They aren't likely to be happy in either case.

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