ST. PETERSBURG — Tropicana Field’s baseball diamond had disappeared under a sea of interlocking squares of squishy matting. Soon, a Christmas wonderland would rise from the new floor.
Jay Stuber, the event manager for this undertaking, was shepherding nearly 100 workers to the construction site, making sure dozens of sections of black fabric were draped properly across the dome’s roof to keep out the sunlight.
Over the course of just three weeks, the Tampa Bay Rays’ home base gets turned into Enchant Christmas, dubbed the country’s largest Christmas light maze. Opening the day after Thanksgiving, the event will feature a 100-foot tree plus light sculptures of reindeer and snowmen, and, oddly, blue whales, as well as a marketplace and a ceiling that looks like a starry night.
On a recent visit to see how the magic comes together, the first installment was a beautiful 100-foot tree pieced together in 10 sections and bathed in white lights and crystals.
“We have 10 sections, so obviously we need to assemble it all from the ground up or they’d be climbing and climbing and climbing,” Stuber said. “So we have to do it sort of backwards and use a crane to lift it up.”
Next were the walls separating the Christmas village from the many merchants and food stalls ringing the stadium.
“I’m worried we might work ourselves into a corner and not have enough space,” Stuber said, eyeing the crews advancing with vendor stalls toward left field.
The walk-through maze will have more than 4 million sparkling lights, trees that look like cherry blossoms, a dome of lights dubbed “the dandelion,” an ice skating trail, live entertainment, Santa visits and a holiday shopping marketplace with crafts, gifts and culinary treats. They expect 300,000 visitors to explore the light maze by the end of the season.
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It all begins on a laptop. Designs utilize 3D technology to create the light maze and a huge new installation making a background of lights with patterns that seem to float from one side of the field to the other.
Stuber said it feels like he’s putting on a Broadway show with so many different pieces for the set, followed by dress rehearsals for performers and staff who will see the final scene this week. But unlike a show, there isn’t just one stage, but a 360-degree set going all at once.
“There’s no live control so everything has to be done ahead of time,” Stuber said. “The electric team and lighting team has it all worked out. That’s why programing is so important.”
Some fun facts:
● Approximately 20 giant tractor trailers arrived at Tropicana Field in early November, filled with supplies needed for this year’s design.
● The sprawling display covers 10 acres.
● It takes more than 2 million feet of electrical wiring to connect Enchant’s 4 million lights.
● It takes 450,000 square feet of blackout curtains that weigh over 39,000 pounds to transform Tropicana Field’s roof into a night sky. The curtains hang from three concentric rings suspended 250 feet off the stadium floor to create a North Pole sky over the maze with starry night chandelier effects.
● The custom-designed ice-skating trail can accommodate 300 guests at once. This attraction is coupled with the LED dance floor, one of the most popular places for kids.
If you go
Enchant Christmas: The huge light maze at Tropicana Field opens Friday with a special tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. Kids are free on Nov. 30, Dec. 7 and 14. It runs through Jan. 1. $35 and up; $20 age 3-17; $32 seniors, military at enchantchristmas.com. Parking is $15 and ice skating, which includes skate rental, is $18 for all ages. 1 Tropicana Drive, St. Petersburg.