Visions of a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays are still fuzzy. But over the weekend in Miami, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for a new state-of-the-art stadium for the Florida Marlins. Look to the south, and it's clearer than ever what it is going to take to ensure Major League Baseball remains part of the fabric in this community.
The Marlins' new ballpark will have natural grass and a retractable roof of three panels that will take 13 minutes to close. There will be a swimming pool, a porch above right field for fans to gather and 50 suites. Instead of going retro to mimic Camden Yards in Baltimore, the appearance will be modern to better reflect Miami. When it opens in 2012, the new stadium will be a far cry from the football stadium the Marlins have called home — and from the outdated Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
While South Florida and Tampa Bay are vastly different places, a comparison of the stadium situations is instructive. Retractable roofs are expensive, and the Marlins' stadium will cost $515 million. That is substantially more than the Rays' $450 million open-air stadium proposal for St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront that has been discarded. Second, the Miami stadium is being built on the site of the Orange Bowl on land that already was publicly owned — just like the Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg. And while the Trop site fares worse than other potential stadium sites in terms of the number of residents within a 30-minute drive, the Orange Bowl site is hardly at South Florida's geographic center.
A Baseball Community, the private group studying options for a new stadium for the Rays, is making progress. It has reasonably recommended against renovating the Trop, concluding that would be too expensive and impractical. And it has called for any new stadium to have a retractable roof, which makes sense given the heat and summer rains. The toughest decisions, including location and financing, lie ahead and will ultimately rest with elected officials and perhaps the voters. In the meantime, the Marlins have a Web cam on their Web site so fans can watch their stadium being built.
"We're not talking about a ballpark. We're not dreaming about a ballpark,'' Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said at Saturday's groundbreaking. "We are building a ballpark.''
In Tampa Bay, we're still talking.