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Half the parking spaces in Rays plans are closed to public

ST. PETERSBURG — Half of the downtown parking spaces the Tampa Bay Rays need for a proposed $450-million stadium are in private or employee lots unavailable to the public.

Exact numbers fluctuate depending on the time of the day, but of the 11,000 spaces the Rays identified within a 25-minute walk of Al Lang Field, 5,500 now are reserved for private use.

That scenario, presented this week in the Rays' detailed parking analysis, poses another challenge in the team's complex $1- billion stadium and redevelopment plan.

Team officials say the owners of the private lots have a financial incentive to open spaces for baseball because many of the lots sit empty at night.

Parking 100 cars for Rays' games could generate as much as $120,000 a year in new revenues, the team estimates.

But the task also could bring operational challenges and costs that outweigh financial gain, some parking operators say.

"Anybody that potentially would have spaces available, of course they would be interested," said Susan Reiter, the facilities director for St. Petersburg College, which has a 170-space garage downtown. The Rays estimate 82 spaces may be available for weeknight baseball games.

"If the stars align, yes we might sit down and talk," Reiter said. "It would be nice to make money. But to & say you're going to get 82 spaces from us is erroneous."

The attendance factor

The Rays' study, which was handled by consultants Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, began by counting all off-street parking within three-quarters of a mile of Al Lang Field.

Consultants eliminated parking that would not be available for the Rays, like spaces at the downtown Hilton and Publix, and studied the rest.

In their analysis, they factored in how many spaces were occupied at game times, the distance from the stadium and the size of the lot. They also added an 800-car garage the Rays want to build next to the Mahaffey Theater and up to 2,700 spaces that would be available at the redeveloped Tropicana Field.

The study, released Tuesday, showed that 13,400 spaces could be available on weeknights.

But that does not mean every space is needed every night, Rays officials said Wednesday.

The number depends on how many fans go to the game.

According to the team study, the Rays would need up to 11,950 spaces for a sellout crowd of 34,000.

If the crowd is smaller, say 26,000 people, the team needs 9,200 spaces.

Some spots — between 1,800 and 2,700 — will be available at and around Tropicana Field, where a shuttle bus could take people to and from the game.

The other spaces are those within walking distance of Al Lang, the Rays say. Thousands are already open to the public, like at the Pier and at BayWalk.

The rest are privately held.

Willing landholders

The Rays are targeting about 20 downtown landholders, including the city and the county government's employee lots.

All Children's Hospital, Bayfront Medical Center and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg — which could provide 2,800 spots — may all be willing to help, they said in letters to the Rays.

Other business owners may follow suit.

"Shared parking usually makes complete sense, especially in a downtown environment," said Calvin Samuel, a principal in The ARC Group, which owns properties that straddle First Avenue S near Seventh Street.

The Rays estimate Samuel's properties could provide 212 parking spaces for the ballpark. But a proposal to build a new 1,400-space parking garage on the site could drastically increase the team's options.

At Second Avenue S and Third Street, Andy Wallace said he would consider opening the 131-space SunTrust Bank building garage to the Rays. But Wallace, the garage operator, already has a contract to provide parking to De Santo Latin American Bistro across the street. It's unclear how many spaces might be available for the Rays, Wallace said.

And the St. Petersburg Times, which has 565 spaces in two lots between Second and Fourth avenues S, said it would consider making its spaces available for baseball.

"To the extent there are empty spaces, we would be open to discussions about leasing those out for game day parking," said Andrew Corty, a vice president for the Times.

Overall, the Rays say that of the nearly 5,500 private spaces the team thinks could be available, owners of more than 3,300 already have said they're interested. Some, however, aren't.

"It's just not worth the hassle," said Mario Perry with Michael Christian Properties, which owns a 60-space lot on First Avenue S near Sixth Street that is used primarily by lawyers working nearby. "People pay a fair amount for the rent. They deserve the space. I'm not going to kick them out."

Wendy Kiral, the parish manager at St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Church at Fifth Avenue S and Fourth Street, said the church could use the extra revenue, but was unsure about the added problems and costs.

"We wouldn't be making a decision on this anytime soon," she said.

Half the parking spaces in Rays plans are closed to public 03/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 2:50pm]
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