ST. PETERSBURG — A potentially fun-filled Saturday could turn into a traffic and parking nightmare downtown.
At any given moment, the casual visitor could face a throng of people with their canines, shoppers looking to scoop up bargains on organic produce or thousands of fans preparing for the biggest baseball game in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays.
If the team returns for a home game Saturday afternoon against the Boston Red Sox, unprecedented levels of fans, onlookers and bystanders could clog downtown.
Saturday is already scheduled to be a busy day with the Saturday Morning Market, FISH-ful Saturday at the Pier, the 18th annual SPCA Pet Walk at North Shore Park and the Pops in the Park at North Straub Park with a fireworks show.
Joe Kubicki, transportation director for the city, was confident there would be enough places to park. "We've implemented a plan that we've tried for the last couple of games," Kubicki said. "We'll be making some modifications in the routing of traffic immediately around Tropicana Field to help disperse traffic."
Kubicki said the BayWalk parking garage and the municipal parking garage were yet to be completely filled during a baseball event.
He didn't know whether the Rays intended to take the tarp off obstructed-view seats in the stadium. "If so, we'll make sure there is adequate parking and call in some additional shuttles," Kubicki said.
The Rays announced later in the day that they will remove the tarps on upper-level seats, making 5,762 more tickets available if the ALCS goes to Game 6.
Meanwhile, Susan Robertson, marketing manager at the Pier, said that although she hoped the Rays wouldn't need to bring it back home for the ALCS, the series has been good for business.
"We've had a lot of visitors from both sides that have come down here," she said. The Pier was hoping to show the match-up Saturday pending Major League Baseball approval, Robertson said. "Not everyone will make it inside for the game."
Bill Proffitt, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department, said he was confident the events Saturday would not be a major impediment for commuting.
"We have a plan for sold-out games at Tropicana Field," Proffitt said. "We have a lot of practice for dealing with those types of events."
Proffitt said traffic patrol officers would have a beefed-up presence Saturday to ease the congestion of people trying to leave. He also noted that fans tend to arrive to weekend games earlier instead of flooding the area at one time. "Some of them will start arriving four hours before the game starts," he said.
Kubicki said arriving early is a good idea. He offered some advice to anyone going downtown in the event of a Rays game: "Get there several hours before or a few hours before, and not to rush to make sure that you see that first pitch."
Reach Austin Bogues at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 893-8872.