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Rays stadium site search officially underway

"Authenticity" tops team's wish list.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have sent Mayor Kriseman a brief document spelling out the qualities they are seeking in a new stadium location, as reported in the Tampa Bay Times.  The drafting of this "process document" was one of the requirements of the MOU through which the City of St. Petersburg gave the team permission to expand their search for stadium sites.

Location, Location, Location

The document does not mention any specific sites, but it does list the team’s very broad selection criteria.  The team will consider several characteristics in choosing between sites:

Catalyst for development. The site should be located in an area that has (or has clear potential for) a "come early, stay late" culture.

Local Authenticity. The area should represent the architectural and cultural legacy of the Tampa Bay region with "iconic elements that positively impact the ballpark brand."

Regional connectivity/site accessibility. Location near key roads and, eventually, mass transit hubs is essential, as is proximity to parking.

Size and geometry. The Rays are seeking at least 20 acres configured so as to accommodate a ballpark.

Financial feasibility and development readiness. The site should have minimal development impediments.

Discussion of a "public-private partnership" and the need for a good public return on investment makes clear that the Rays expect public dollars will play a role in this project.  For their part, elected officials have made clear that the Rays will be expected to make a significant financial investment as well. Ultimately any stadium deal is likely to include a mix of several public and private sources.

An "authentic" experience

The team also outlines some qualities they will seek in the ballpark itself. The ballpark must have an intimate feel, resembling a collection of neighborhoods rather than the "one-size-fits-all" model of an earlier generation of stadiums. The stadium will "push the limits of ballpark design," maximizing a highly participatory fan experience.

In a meeting today with Tampa/Hillsborough officials, Brian Auld noted that the new stadium might have no third deck.  These top decks are the most expensive to build, and don't enhance the fan experience.

Interestingly, the word that is heard most often is "authentic" or "authenticity."  The desired stadium experience, the architecture, the sense of place are all to be "authentic".  This concept is one that is commonly invoked among planners and urban designers, but it can be difficult to pin down what it means.  One could argue that poorly designed strip malls along dreary commercial corridors are truly the "authentic" Florida experience, but that’s probably not the environment the Rays are seeking.

Presumably they are hoping to tie this development (and the attendant branding of the team and the site) to places that already have both historic identity and an entertainment infrastructure.  This would suggest a preference for sites in the urban core of either St. Pete or Tampa above places like Carillon or the Fairgrounds.

St. Pete, Tampa reps respond

According to the Times, St. Petersburg council members have welcomed this statement, believing that St. Pete and the current Tropicana Field easily meet these criteria.  Mayor Buckhorn and Hillsborough County commissioners are also hopeful that sites on the east side of the Bay would have strong appeal.   A meeting with Rays leadership and Tampa/Hillsborough public and business sector representatives was held Friday morning, after which both Mayor Buckhorn and Commissioner Ken Hagan expressed optimism that a stadium could be built in Hillsborough County.