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Amalie Arena getting a free 'beach' made of opaque balls; no sunscreen required (w/video)

A boy enjoys the Beach installation at the National Building Museum in August 2015 in Washington, D.C. The Beach is an interactive architectural installation, with an "ocean" of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic balls, that brings the experience of going to the beach indoors.  (Getty Images)
A boy enjoys the Beach installation at the National Building Museum in August 2015 in Washington, D.C. The Beach is an interactive architectural installation, with an "ocean" of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic balls, that brings the experience of going to the beach indoors. (Getty Images)
Published Jul. 19, 2016

TAMPA — Imagine a simulated ocean of translucent bubbles crashing onto a white turf carpet beach inside Amalie Arena.

Sound fun? The bubbles, or more accurately more than a million plastic balls, arrive next month.

The idea was hatched last year when a stunning collection of balls that was the hit of the summer at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., caught the fancy of Penny Vinik, wife of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. She made it her mission to bring Beach DC to Tampa Bay.

Unlike Washington visitors, who paid $16 to visit the museum, the Beach Tampa will be free to the public thanks to the Vinik Family Foundation when the experiential art installation washes ashore Aug. 5-25 at the arena.

Part art exhibit and part physics lesson, the 15,000-square-foot environment is like no other beach, with 1.2 million antimicrobial plastic balls in an all-white enclosure made of construction materials such as scaffolding, wall panels and perforated mesh.

The balls, about 3 inches in diameter, create a swash zone that surrounds every step with rolling balls. They move and carry the traveler, making it impossible to sink to the bottom but also difficult to stand. You swim. Or maybe belly flop. Landings are soft as you float atop hundreds of the opaque balls.

"The Beach Tampa transforms the familiar beach experience into a truly unique, visually stimulating and tactile experience," said Penny Vinik. "It's also just pure fun."

Timed tickets are available through thebeachtampa.com and the arena box office starting today. There will be free parking and even one complimentary ice cream treat per person waiting on the "shore" outside the ball area featuring a beach hut, beach chairs and umbrellas. About 500 visitors will be allowed inside the arena at any one time.

The white recyclable balls are coated with a germ blocker. There was one report of a woman who said she got pink eye in Washington, but between the antimicrobial component built into the balls and hand sanitizer readily available, there were no other reports of contagion.

Created by Snarkitecture, a witty New York design firm that has completed projects for Calvin Klein, the Kith sneaker emporium in Brooklyn and hotels across the country, the entertaining chaos of Beach DC was a blockbuster exhibit for the museum, drawing a record-breaking 160,000 visitors.

"The concept came from the idea of the balls as an architectural material," Snarkitecture co-founder Alex Mustonen said in an interview with Esquire. "By abstracting and multiplying, we were interested in transforming them from something associated with children's play and turning them into something much larger."

But be careful to hang onto your stuff when you wade in. The Building Museum had hundreds of lost cellphones, eyeglasses, Fitbits, flip-flops and even an engagement ring — which was joyfully recovered a week later — after visitors soon discovered that lost items "float" away in a sea of plastic balls and were very tough to find. The balls roll and fill any hole you dig trying to find your lost cellphone.

There were more than 1,000 lost items over the summer, and the museum found $433.24 in loose change at the bottom of the Beach when it was taken down after Labor Day, the Washington Post reported.

Taking those lessons into account, the arena will supply lockers and warn visitors about loose items getting swept away.

It took months of planning to get a long period of time the arena could be available for such an event, said Kevin Preast, senior vice president of event management for Amalie Arena.

It's not the kind of event you can just put in over a weekend since it takes a full nine semitrailer trucks to haul all the balls into the arena space, he said.

No matter how popular the Beach Tampa becomes, it has to be gone after Aug. 25 because two days later superstar Drake is bringing his sold-out show to the arena.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.