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Rays seek to calm fears that stadium won't fit Ybor's historic look

Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, shown here from 15th Street looking north, is the district's main drag. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, shown here from 15th Street looking north, is the district's main drag. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Apr. 10, 2018

TAMPA — In 2010 when Ikea sought permission to install a 125-foot pole topped by three 600-square-foot signs at its Adamo Drive store on the outskirts of Ybor City, the city of Tampa said no.

Although Ikea is not within the boundaries of the Ybor City Historic District, the City Council contended the proposed sign would not have fit in with the historic feel of the neighboring Latin district.

That's how protective the city has been of Ybor's look.

But considering the financial impact that a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium on a site that includes part of Ybor could have on the area, some have wondered if the city might loosen up when approving the team's designs.

For now, at least, it doesn't appear the Rays will be looking for any favors.

"Local authenticity is one of our most important site selection criterion," Rays chief development officer Melanie Lenz said Tuesday, "and we expect to build a next-generation, neighborhood ballpark that fits within the fabric of the Ybor City community."

On Monday evening, Lenz and a three-person stadium design team toured Ybor to calm those fears while learning more about the area's architecture.

Leading the tour was Patrick Manteiga, the publisher of Ybor's weekly La Gaceta newspaper. And he came away content that the Rays will be good neighbors.

"There are so many eyes on this that the Rays will do it right," Manteiga said. "They have to get this community behind them. They don't need a fight."

The tour, which included the century-old Cuban and Italian social clubs and examples of modern buildings made in historic fashion, was not directly linked to the Tampa or Hillsborough County governments.

Manteiga requested it from the Rays after hearing concerns from other Ybor stakeholders that the stadium could hurt the district's historic appearance.

He has long been among those leading fights against possible Ybor developments that don't fit in. It's why when McDonald's and the U.S. Postal Service designed modern historic-looking Ybor structures, representatives met with him.

The Rays design team gave no specifics of what the stadium would look like, Manteiga said, but assured him those parts of it in or bordering Ybor will not stand out among the area's historic structures and they displayed knowledge on local historic district guidelines.

"My goal was to put into context the emotional meaning behind Ybor," Manteiga said, "and what would be expected of them."

The Ybor City Historic District is governed by the city's Barrio Latino Commission. Its guidelines seek to preserve an early 1900s flavor in new developments and restoration.

Street lights, for example, must be "distinctive iron posts with five illuminated globes," according to guidelines. Brick exterior walls are most desirable, facades must extend to the sidewalk edge, and the height variance is 45 feet.

Designs must be approved by the BLC, but even if they are, Manteiga said, if Ybor stakeholders still believe the stadium is an eyesore they can take the matter to the City Council.

The Rays' potential 14-acre Tampa sight is bounded by Channelside and Adamo Drives, 15th Street and Fourth Avenue.

That doesn't include much of the Ybor City Historic District, which in that corner of Ybor has boundaries that end at Third Ave. and about half block before 15th Street. "It's like two halves of blocks," said Manteiga.

Still, as the Ikea sign proved, anything bordering Ybor should also respect the district's architecture.

"They understand there is that gray area," Manteiga said of the Rays design team. "And I trust they will respect it."

As for Ikea, it was left with an existing structure, 35 feet tall with three 300-square-foot signs. That's half the size and just over half the height of the one proposed.

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.