TAMPA — For more than two years, business and civic leaders in Hillsborough County have pitched the idea of a new Rays ballpark to the public with no real idea what it would look like or how much it would cost.
That will all change Tuesday.
That’s when the Rays plan to unveil drawings of a new ballpark and in the process provide some long-awaited answers about the team’s push for a new home.
Will it be a retractable or translucent domed roof? How many seats? Where will home plate be?
And most crucial of all: How much will it cost?
The milestone comes five months after principal owner Stu Sternberg announced that the team had picked a 14-acre site in Ybor City as its preferred new home. The Rays have been working with Populous, an international architect firm that also designed the team’s spring training ballpark in Port Charlotte.
The drawings will give the public the first glimpse of how a ballpark would fit into the historic Latin neighborhood near downtown and will make it easier to grow support for the project, said Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan, who helped open the door for the Rays to pursue a move to Tampa.
"When we initially rolled out the location, that generated a significant amount of support," Hagan said. "This will only help us to gain momentum and gain the necessary corporate and community support."
But no matter how innovative and appealing the design, Hagan and other local leaders still face an uphill task to figure out how to pay for a stadium, a cost estimated at around $800 million.
The Rays have yet to officially disclose how much they would be willing to pay. Both Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn have said raising taxes is not an option, although money set aside for community improvement projects could be used for utility lines and road realignment to support a ballpark. Profits from surrounding development may also be part of the financing plan.
That makes it even more vital to get corporate support — a pitch that will be easier to make now that the ballpark is more than an abstract concept, Hagan said.
Enlisting corporate support is the job of Rays 2020, a booster group headed by Chuck Sykes of Sykes Enterprises and Tampa attorney Ron Christaldi. The non-profit group has signed up 100 companies willing to help finance the team’s move to Ybor City, including Outback Steakhouse and Tech Data.
"They’re working hard," Hagan said. "This will be another tool to allow them to galvanize that support."
Crowds at Tropicana Field, where the team is under contract to play through 2027, have been the smallest in Major League Baseball over the past six years.
After years of lobbying by the team, St. Petersburg finally agreed in 2016 to let the Rays officials explore potential sites around Tampa Bay. But that agreement runs out at the end of this year, when the team must let city officials know if it plans to exercise an out clause.
Comments by Rays officials at community meetings have provided a few clues about what the stadium might look like.
Their lofty goal is to build a next-generation ballpark that will double as a community destination beyond game days. Among the ideas thrown out by Rays President Brian Auld are a part-time community park, a fitness center that doubles as a wellness program for the University of South Florida, and kitchens that offer culinary classes.
A full upper deck is unlikely since it’s expensive and so hard to fill at the Trop that it’s usually covered with a blue tarp.
The ballpark’s exterior may include a tip of the hat to Ybor City’s century-old Cuban and Italian social clubs and iconic balconies and brick exteriors. Rays Chief Development Officer Melanie Lenz and a three-member stadium design team toured Ybor City n April to experience the neighborhood’s historic architecture firsthand.
Hagan said no one outside the team has seen the renderings yet.
"I know the team has put a lot of work into the design," he said, "and I’m excited to see it."
Contact Christopher O’Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.