ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Baker said Wednesday it would be difficult for him to favor a waterfront stadium unless the Tampa Bay Rays add 3,500 parking spaces downtown.
The Rays, Baker said, also must find another 3,500 spaces that are within a half-mile of the proposed stadium and whose owners are willing to cater to baseball.
Can the team win his support without more parking commitments? "I think it would be hard," Baker said. "They're going from a site with 7,000 dedicated parking spaces."
Baker's comments reinforced the findings of a city staff report released late last week. The City Council is scheduled to review the staff recommendations today.
Rays officials declined to respond late Wednesday.
"We need to look at the in-depth analysis … not just a one-page summary," said Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt.
It appears unlikely that such a technical analysis exists.
The city's parking consultant, Kimley-Horn of Tampa, did not suggest a need for the 3,500-space parking garage in its 25-page review of the Rays' plan.
The report raised several questions about the Rays' plans — including the willingness of private business owners to open their spaces to the public — but did not find a shortage of parking around the proposed stadium.
City officials say the requirement emerged in a meeting between Kimley-Horn and the city. The consultant then included the recommendation in a letter to the city.
City transportation and parking director Joe Kubicki said the city and Kimley-Horn jointly agreed to discount any parking spaces that were more than a half-mile from the stadium.
"In our opinion, it's too far to walk," Kubicki said of the Ray's three-quarter-mile standard. A Kimley-Horn official could not be reached for comment.
A study by the Rays found that 6,826 spaces will likely be available for weekday night games within a half-mile of the stadium, another 3,135 spaces would be available within three-quarters of a mile.
These are spots not being used by anyone on weekday nights, according to the Rays' study, but more than a third of those spaces are closed to the public.
The city's analysis did not account for anyone parking more than a half-mile from the new stadium, a common practice at Tropicana Field for well-attended games. The outer edge of the Tropicana Field parking lot is a quarter-mile from the closest entrance.
The city also discounted the private spaces, saying it wants firmer commitments from business owners allowing those spaces to be used for baseball.
"We think you need to have 7,000 spaces in a half-mile of the stadium," said city senior development administrator Rick Mussett. "The question becomes: How can that need be met?"
The amount of available parking differs depending on the day and time of the game. About half of the 81 scheduled home games take place Monday through Thursday nights, with the other half spread over Friday and Saturday nights, and weekday and Sunday afternoons.
The demand also will change if a game is played opposite a major event, like Mainsail Arts Festival or Taste of Pinellas.
The city and Rays officials concede that trying to document the amount of parking that will be available downtown in 2012 is speculative.
Businesses don't seem willing to promise parking to a stadium that may or may not happen. Neither do they want to commit spaces that may or may not be available.
Still, the number of potential parking spaces downtown is likely to increase in the next four years as new projects are built.
Two garages planned
Besides the private development scheduled or contemplated — one developer says it has plans to build a 1,400-space garage at First Avenue South and Seventh Street that the Rays could use — the city already has budgeted $14-million to build its own parking garage.
In today's market, that could mean 1,000 additional spaces, depending on the location.
"By and large, we only see things getting better," said David Wallace, a partner in the firm that conducted the Rays' study, Rummel, Klepper & Kahl of Baltimore, which has done similar studies for stadiums in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
"If the operation can be deemed to be plausible today, future scenarios with few exceptions tend to be better," said Wallace, whose staff plans to respond to the city's analysis.
The parking analyses do not account for the county's rapid bus transit project, which is supposed to become a viable alternative to get downtown, or a ferry that potentially could bring people to the game from Tampa via the bay.
Baker said Wednesday he likely would need firm commitments from the Rays by August, before the last City Council vote needed to schedule a November referendum.
"The parking and traffic concerns have been a very significant concern of the public," Baker said. "Our recommendations are consistent, I think, with the public's input."