Rays encourage fans to express support for new stadium project

The team feels it is “in pretty good shape” with upcoming votes by St. Petersburg and Pinellas County officials. But, Brian Auld said, “you can never be too careful.”
Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander speaks during a panel discussion on the state of baseball during the team's annual Fan Fest celebration Saturday at Tropicana Field.
Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander speaks during a panel discussion on the state of baseball during the team's annual Fan Fest celebration Saturday at Tropicana Field. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 17|Updated Feb. 18

ST. PETERSBURG — In “a two to three months sprint” to complete the final documents for the new stadium project that will be voted on by the St. Petersburg City Council and Pinellas County Commission, Rays officials told fans Saturday they would appreciate a little help from them.

Team president Brian Auld said during a panel discussion at the Rays’ annual Fan Fest he would encourage fans to write the council members and commissioners “to let them know how important” they consider the new stadium, which would be part of a redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District.

“They need to know how much we all want this project to move forward,” Auld said. “We feel like we’re in pretty good shape there, but you can never be too careful.”

A vote on the project originally was planned for April, but city officials said they will need until at least May to be ready. The timeline to have the stadium ready for opening day 2028 calls for ground to be broken this fall, ending a decades-long quest for a new home.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg, speaking with WDAE from Fan Fest, said the Rays “feel pretty good about things” but acknowledged “there is always worry” until a deal gets done as “time is not always your friend.”

“The sooner I can get that shovel in the ground,” Sternberg said, “the better I’ll feel about all of it.”

Other things of note Auld and fellow team president Matt Silverman said Saturday:

• The fixed roof and air-conditioned stadium will have a total capacity of around 34,000-35,000 for baseball but with a focus on comfort and intimacy. That includes only about 28,000-29,000 fixed seats, which Silverman said probably will be the fewest of any big-league team: “That’s to make sure that we bring all the seats as close as possible to the playing field and there is not going to be a bad seat in the house. We want it to be a festive atmosphere. We want it to be fluid where fans can move within the park easily.”

• To take advantage of the sloping topography of the site, which is in the parking lot just east of Tropicana Field, Silverman said home plate will be at the south end. The highest point of the roof will be only above the playing field and then tier down. “So that when you’re walking along the streets, it doesn’t feel like there’s a 275-foot building right there,” Silverman said. “It feels like a neighborhood.” The stadium will have some operable doors to provide “an open-air feel” on favorable weather days.

• A new parking facility will be built at the front end of the process to offset spaces lost once construction starts at the Trop, and parking will be spread throughout the redevelopment area.

“What we want to have is a neighborhood that you can walk through, that you can park a couple blocks away, stop by a restaurant on your way in or on your way out from the ballpark‚” Silverman said.

“Parking is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for us. We’re going to have plenty of parking. But it’s going to be done in a way where there’s activity on top of the parking lots and surrounding the parking lots so that it’s easy and convenient for our fans.”

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• There are plans to include a tank that holds live rays, similar to the popular attraction at Tropicana Field.

Also, Sternberg, talking with WDAE’s Jay Recher and Zac Blobner, said this year’s team payroll, which will surpass $90 million for the first time, is “uncomfortable.” As a result, the team will “be in the well negative territory on the profit and loss page.” He said revenues from the new stadium, such as naming rights, sponsorships and suite sales, will have a positive impact “on the field as far as payroll.”

Times sports columnist John Romano contributed to this report.

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