Give St. Petersburg developer Darryl LeClair credit. He stepped up to the plate Friday and delivered an impressive vision for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium in mid Pinellas County. Whether it's the best plan or the smartest location or financially feasible is debatable. But it is a serious pitch that should help break the deadlock between the Rays and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.
At least LeClair's presentation of a half-billion-dollar stadium enveloped by new commercial and residential buildings brought together St. Petersburg city officials, Pinellas County commissioners and Rays executives — even if they imposed a needless gag on public discussion. This is no back-of-the-envelope brainstorm but a substantive proposal developed with name-brand stadium architects, construction companies and traffic consultants.
CityScape's "Rays Park at Carillon" is imaginative in a number of ways. It squeezes a modern baseball stadium into the Carillon suburban office park and neighborhood, then rings it with Mediterranean Revival office buildings, retail stores, residences and a hotel. Consultants estimate more than $227 million would be saved by using existing parking garages and infrastructure, and by sharing construction components between the stadium and adjoining buildings. There was plenty of discussion about a fixed or retractable stadium roof, energy efficiency and marketing opportunities. There was not a peep about how all of this would be financed.
Three early observations:
• A traffic consultant's report predictably concluded that Carillon is the center of the universe and that nobody from Pinellas County would drive at rush hour to a stadium in downtown Tampa. There is too much emphasis on 30-minute drive times and no talk of mass transit, even looking out to 2035. That is a serious omission.
• There should be a broader public discussion about how a new baseball stadium fits into the development of Tampa Bay. Some of the most successful newer stadiums are in downtowns, not in suburban office parks ringed by parking garages. It's also hard to envision the seamless transition of thousands of office workers leaving Carillon as thousands of baseball fans are arriving, even with all the new turn lanes and entrances on those pretty maps.
• Tropicana Field is terribly outdated, if county and city officials haven't noticed. Recently built stadiums and the one proposed at Carillon feature open concourses where the field is visible, larger suites, more gathering areas for fans and other amenities that the Trop lacks.
LeClair's stadium proposal should break the ice, but it is only a starting point. The Rays need to be able to compare his vision with other options in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties even as St. Petersburg holds the team to the Trop's long-term lease. Foster has refused to make that sensible accommodation, and this is a regional franchise that cannot be expected to look for a new stadium site in only part of the region.