After two years of behind-the-scenes preparation, private developers unveiled plans Friday for a new baseball stadium — without any assurance that the Tampa Bay Rays are even interested or whether anyone will foot the bill.
Still, CityScape's "Rays Park at Carillon" is a substantial proposal — created by prominent stadium builders, accompanied by adjacent development and backed by a fresh look at regional drive times.
It represents the most detailed alternative to Tropicana Field since the team's own waterfront project fizzled in 2008.
City Council members, who held a special two-hour meeting to receive the presentation, came away impressed, saying they hope the plan will end a standoff with the Rays over where a new stadium might be located.
"These people put a lot of energy and money into this,'' council member Bill Dudley said after the meeting at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park. "The Rays should look at this in the spirit it was intended. It's their turn."
The drive for a new stadium stems from Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg's contention that Tropicana Field is not a viable arena for baseball. Tepid attendance has reflected poorly on the aging stadium, downtown St. Petersburg as a location and the entire region's potential as a baseball market.
Sternberg has refused to discuss new stadium sites in St. Petersburg unless the city allows the team to explore Hillsborough County options as well — a request Mayor Bill Foster has rejected.
Michael Kalt, Rays vice president for development and business affairs, attended Friday's presentation but declined to say whether the glitzy slides, demographic numbers and hints of possible financing might entice the team to soften its position and negotiate with CityScape.
"We are glad people are taking an active interest in the long-term future of baseball in the Tampa Bay area," Kalt said in a prepared statement. "We look forward to having more discussions take place like this throughout the region."
Foster, who had not previously seen the plan, said it exceeded his expectations.
"It's a great day. We got the Rays in the room. Let's see how they respond back,'' Foster said. "When the World Series is over, I'll reach out to them."
And if the team balks at discussing Carillon?
"Then we're done," Foster said. "The city is obligated to 15 more years of the team playing at the Trop."
Ringed by other buildings
Darryl LeClair, the developer behind CityScape, said his company risked time and money to develop the plan, fully aware that the project would die if the Rays stick to their guns.
CityScape needs four or five days to explain the plan to Sternberg, as well as ideas for redeveloping the Trop acreage, LeClair said.
"At the end of the day he could say, 'I appreciate the efforts, but I still need to look over there' " in Hillsborough, LeClair said. "That's the risk I took. He's in the driver's seat."
LeClair declined to discuss financing or what his companies stand to gain until he can meet with Sternberg.
"We do believe there are multiple financing options that range from private financing, to a public-private joint venture that requires no incremental direct burden on the local taxpayers,'' LeClair said.
Carillon, a triangle bounded by Ulmerton Road, Roosevelt Boulevard and Interstate 275, is an office park and neighborhood, with about 14,000 workers and 3,000 residents. Large employers like Raymond James Financial and Bright House Networks have headquarters there.
LeClair's companies control about 17.5 acres near Ulmerton Road and hope to acquire five more.
The proposed stadium footprint would consume nearly half that space, ringed by Mediterranean Revival office buildings, retail stores, apartments and a hotel that would form many of the stadium's outside walls.
No other major league stadium in the country integrates as much non-baseball construction with the playing field itself.
The air-conditioned stadium would seat 35,000, either with a retractable roof or a fixed window pane roof, fashioned from the tough, light plastic that covered Beijing's Water Cube during the 2008 Olympics.
A transparent rear wall would afford views of Tampa Bay by day and into the lit-up field from Ulmerton by night.
Seats would rise steeply, so lower, middle and upper decks would all be close to the field. Concourses and concessions would remain open to the action.
Stacked above seats and suites would be the offices, apartments and a hotel, where clients and renters could watch games without a ticket, though presumably paying landlords a premium for that opportunity.
These attached buildings and retail spaces would total 1.6 million square feet, CityScape said, and would save roughly $41 million in construction costs by sharing foundations, walls and mechanical and electrical systems with the stadium.
Christian Agulles, with the engineering firm of WSP Flack + Kurtz, gave a long, technical explanation of energy saving construction ideas that left the audience of 300 squirming with incomprehension.
Bottom line, shared utilities with adjacent buildings could make water and electric bills 60 percent lower than at the Trop, Auglles said.
LeClair said CityScape directed that part of the presentation mainly to the Rays, to pique their interest. "This is the only opportunity we have had to talk to them,'' LeClair said.
Coming up with $250M
If construction began in 2014, CityScape estimated the stadium would cost $540 million to $570 million, including land and infrastructure. That's consistent with the Miami Marlins stadium that opened this year.
The estimates and designs came from architects HKS Sports & Entertainment, which helped build stadiums for the Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers, and Hunt Construction, which built the Marlins' stadium, as well as ballparks for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets and Washington Nationals.
Amid municipal austerity and voter disenchantment with sports subsidies, paying for the stadium was a top concern for council members.
Though the Trop contract runs through 2027, the main stadium bonds will be paid off by 2016. At that point, a 1 percent Pinellas hotel tax that now supports the Trop might be rolled over for a new stadium without massive political resistance.
Money from selling the Trop land might also be available because that cash flow wouldn't exist without a new stadium.
Those two sources might reasonably generate roughly $150 million toward new construction. And the Rays have indicated they might contribute $150 million toward the right project. Even then, a $250 million gap would remain.
"That's where the dialogue comes in,'' said council member Wengay Newton. "That's the line in the sand."
Easier to drive to there
To make its case for location, CityScape presented a drive time study that touted Carillon as being closer for fans than downtown Tampa or Dale Mabry Highway.
Conducted by Whit Blanton of the Renaissance Planning Group, the analysis was based on data from the Florida Department of Transportation. The results were a bit surprising.
A few years ago, a group of civic leaders called the ABC Coalition looked at population and businesses within a 30-minute drive of various stadium sites, a standard measuring stick based on fan willingness to travel to midweek games.
The ABC study found that fans could get to downtown Tampa's Channelside District slightly more easily than to Carillon. Tampa also held the edge in employees, critical because people often travel directly from work to midweek games.
The ABC Coalition, however, based its numbers on drive times spread throughout the day, Blanton said. His company examined only weekday traffic from 4 to 7 p.m. — when fans would actually be on the road.
During those periods, traffic flows more easily from Hillsborough to Pinellas than the other way around, the analysis found. An eastbound bottleneck around Tampa International Airport was one major cause.
Few people from Pinellas can reach downtown Tampa in 30 minutes during rush hour, the study showed, whereas many people can make it to Carillon from downtown Tampa, South Tampa, West Tampa and near North Tampa.
CityScape illustrated this point with a video of the Howard Frankland Bridge taken July 19, 2011, at 5:52 p.m. Though the New York Yankees were playing that night at Tropicana Field, westbound traffic flowed freely while eastbound traffic stacked up.
Blanton's analysis showed that 1,142,000 people live within a 30-minute drive of Carillon during afternoon rush hour and 588,000 people work within that distance. That compares to 1,038,000 residents and 506,000 workers for downtown Tampa.
These disparities will widen by 2035, the study estimated, because planned road improvements will ease more congestion in Pinellas than in Hillsborough.
Another plus is that Carillon already has needed infrastructure, CityScape president Chris Eastman said, including 14,000 parking spaces that serve existing offices. About 90 percent are vacant after 6 p.m.
That's enough parking to support a stadium — as long as neighboring companies agree to share their spaces. LeClair said his group has talked to major Carillon employers but declined to elaborate on their reaction.
Undeveloped land sprinkled around Carillon could also hold parking, and the Rays ballpark project would add 4,300 spaces underneath the offices, hotel and a large open plaza that would flank the stadium.
Midweek afternoon games could be a problem. Office workers would tie down the parking, then jockey to leave just as the stadium emptied out.
Those games — maybe 11 or 12 a year — would require shuttle buses and parking locations outside Carillon, LeClair said.
Already drawing backers
If the ballpark project fails, he said, CityScape will build a mixed-use town center for Carillon without a stadium.
But the project already gained two important fans. A Publix supermarket and a sports bar now occupy five acres along Ulmerton Road that the company hopes to buy. Both could be incorporated into the project but would have to be razed first.
"We were very impressed with the depth of what has been done," said Jim White, managing partner of the group that owns the Publix land. "We would cooperate with Darryl however we could to get this stadium done."
Former NBA player Matt Geiger co-owns Courtside Grille. Employees could not work during thetransition, he said, but "it's a great location. I couldn't be happier. My (business partner) and I would be more than excited to be a part of this."