ST. PETERSBURG — Fact: Everything looks better covered in Christmas lights. Patio screen chewed up by hyperactive squirrels? Glistening icicles and inflatable hula Santa! House not pressure washed since Grover Cleveland held office? Color-changing bulb medley with sparkling wicker reindeer!
The same logic is true for our old gal Tropicana Field, a cavern requiring more than a few LED strings. Enchant Christmas is back at the Trop, a holiday maze of 4 million lights inside St. Pete’s embattled baseball dome. Officials lit the city’s largest Christmas tree Friday in a wholesome scene straight out of a certain milieu of holiday movie. OK, it’s a Hallmark movie. Hallmark is a sponsor.
I checked out Enchant on opening night. Mayor Ken Welch kicked off the event by reading a proclamation that the event was… kicking… off. Related note, what is the deal with proclamations? It seems like a lot of paperwork to formally use the word “whereas” 16 times.
Anyway, the building looked splendid. Possibly the best it has ever looked. The Trop is not that bad, but it’s not that good, either. I usually compare the home of the Rays to a Home Depot, but one could go with Costco, Floor & Decor, Conn’s HomePlus, Best Buy or Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration’s warehouse on “The Office.”
Enchant said makeover time: light maze, skating rink, market of Tampa Bay makers and restaurants, Mannheim-ish instrumental soundtrack, seasonal booze in light-up cups you will regret paying $22 for when the oxytocin clears (ask me how I know). It’s an Instagram paradise, a jolt of disorienting merriment, a place to threaten children if they don’t find their other shoe. A quest! A quest for fun!
Enchant offers nine light mazes around the country, but we don’t care about the others. We care about the Trop and the design inspiration this visiting expo provides for would-be ballpark czars. Anyone vying to lead the site’s redevelopment should head in for a stadium-priced Bailey’s spiked cocoa. Before crossing T’s on proposals, stroll winsomely as if you’ve returned to your provincial, snowy hometown after leaving your stressful lawyer job in the big city.
Enchant expects 300,000 visitors through Jan. 1. That tells us this town can sustain some real pizzazz! This town can pull off wide-leg pants and a beret. Imagine what whimsy could take root at this sterile water tank of a stadium.
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The Tampa Bay Rays lease ends in 2027, which will be here much sooner than you think given that time is a terrible construct; the Monday after Thanksgiving took four weeks, and 2016 first occurred 34 years ago.
Welch plans to select a developer for the Historic Gas Plant District in January. The Rays’ official stance is, “I don’t care where we eat, you pick. No, not there.” Welch is seeking concepts that address affordable housing, hotel and convention space and more, as well as honor the historically Black neighborhood razed for the dome, a community that has never seen the promised dividends. And, yes, a baseball stadium.
But just imagine if the site proposals came back truly refreshing. The potential for greatness is there. Friday, I forgot I was even in the Trop while weaving through so many GAZEBOS. We’re talking windmills, people. Dangly jellyfish lights a la “Avatar.” Rainbow arches. Cherry blossoms. Soy candles and wreath demonstrations. Food hall booths running out of holiday nachos. Product placement. The WONDERMENT of CHILDREN. Enchant even features inexplicable blue whales dancing overhead.
I am not seriously advocating for a year-round holiday skating rink (or am I?). In all likelihood, the site will end up with the Developer Special™, a blandly curated mix of apartments, grain bowl restaurants, office space, a coffee shop sponsored by Capital One and a ballpark a team may or may not want.
What I’m saying is, surprise us with ideas that will truly set St. Pete apart. Baseball or no baseball. Laser tag emporium. Cirque du Soleil theme park. Moon walk simulator. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming, developers. I want to see you at Enchant, wearing your coziest cable knit sweaters, clutching a mug of Glögg and drafting plans for the functional yet glimmering showpiece this city deserves. Whales optional.
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