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Rays soliciting outside-the-box ideas for new stadium

Published May 27, 2016

TAMPA -- If you've ever thought a ballpark would be better if it had a spa, or a water slide, or maybe a couch to cry on after an extra innings loss, now is your time to speak up.

The Tampa Bay Rays are set to launch a new website where fans and residents can submit ideas about what they see as must-haves in a new stadium.

The team has already said they plan to break the mold when it comes to design and want a ballpark that the community can use outside of game day.

So left field ideas are very welcome.

"This is a really big community decision we have to make together and we want people to participate in it, to understand it, and know what we're all getting into," said Rays President Brian Auld "Let's hear your craziest, wackiest ideas and let's see if we can make some of them a reality."

Auld said the Rays have challenged their architect, Kansas-based Populous, to throw out all traditional ideas of building a ballpark.

Among the concepts the team has floated are having the training facility double as a community wellness center, and for stadium kitchens to serve as a culinary institution or training facility.

At a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon Friday at the Hilton Tampa Downtown hotel, Auld revealed more unconventional thinking.

Do seats have to be in linear rows or is there a more social configuration? Can they use technology to allow a fan to sit in the front row for three innings and then move to club seats for another few innings? Can the outfield walls open up in the winter to allow the public to use the grounds as a park?

The new website will also be used to communicate the team's vision for the ballpark to the community.

"I don't know of any other team that has done this," Auld said "There is going to be something that comes from this that we put into our ballpark and makes it a better place."

Keen to bolster the amount of corporate support the team gets, the Rays have met with local business leaders in so-called "blue-sky" meetings where out-of-the box ideas are encouraged.

The team also surveyed about 500 businesses on both sides of Tampa Bay to gauge how companies feel about the team.

Other organizations in Tampa Bay have also used websites to get feedback from the public on large projects, an approach known as crowd-sourcing.

Strategic Property Partners, the development partnership of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, launched Tampawaterfront20/20.com in 2014 to solicit ideas for the redevelopment of about 40 acres around Amalie Arena.

The City of St. Petersburg last year invited the public to vote online for their favorite pier designs. It ended up choosing the design that was the public's second choice.

The Rays, who are under contract to play at Tropicana Field through 2027, were granted permission to look for a new ballpark site by St. Petersburg City Council in December.

The team has commissioned marketing studies to determine what sites would provide the best level of fan and business support. Auld said that it is unlikely the team will announce any results before the end of the season.

But he did reveal that the new studies are producing similar findings to those conducted for the 2010 ABC Coalition report commissioned by former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.

It rejected downtown St. Petersburg and the Florida State Fair Grounds as viable sites and concluded that only the Gateway area, Westshore and downtown Tampa had sufficient population density and concentration of businesses to support professional baseball.

The Rays received $138-million in revenue sharing during the first four years of MLB's current collective bargaining agreement, according to Forbes magazine.

Auld said the team will have to prove to MLB that investment in a new stadium will mean the team no longer relies on revenue sharing.

"We all need to be pretty certain it's going to work," Auld said. "Nobody wants to invest all that money in a ballpark that isn't going to draw the number of people we need to be successful."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226 3446. Follow @codonnell_Times

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