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Sign us up for the swivel seats: More thoughts on Rays stadium design

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Picnic areas, co-working spaces and other features of the proposed stadium

There has been a lot of coverage of the Rays stadium reveal. Here we highlight some unusual things about the proposed ballpark that have caught our attention.

Let’s get a few things out in the open at the outset

First, the name. We know that at some point, if the Rays are lucky, some soulless corporation will give millions for naming rights and this will become Something Something Boring Bank Stadium. That’s OK, we need the money and we understand. But until that day we are calling the stadium “The Humidor”, a great name with local associations.

Second, architectural renderings are not detailed plans. What we see is in essence a concept. There is a lot to fill in. Indeed, if you heard Stu Sternberg interviewed during the game broadcast last night, he mentioned a few things he had hoped to see and that the architects have told him to sit tight because they are not ready to include that level of detail. So. if you are worried because you don’t see a cigar bar, keep in mind that even if this plan could be realized exactly as it has been imagined, the finished product will look different than the renderings.

Finally, the cost — and who is paying. Building a stadium is expensive, we know. Some of us writing here are Hillsborough County tax payers so we have some skin in this game. There are many arguments about whether privately owned teams should get public funds that make them richer. We have heard these arguments, we understand them, but we are putting them aside for the moment. Today is the day we fantasize about the dream house our realtor has shown us. Tomorrow we can sit down with that more responsible spouse who has crunched the numbers and knows we can’t afford it.

Things to love about the Humidor

1. The size. There are so many good reasons to build a stadium with a smaller capacity. First, attendance is declining around the league, and just about every new stadium built in the last twenty years is smaller than the one it replaced. Putting aside debates about baseball’s popularity and marketing issues, I think it is clear that people consume sports differently than they did forty years ago. Just as today’s movie theaters have fewer seats, but the seats are all big reclining easy chairs, so will baseball stadiums be replacing nosebleed seats with things like standing room bar areas and picnic berms.

The surprise here was not the capacity, as the Rays have been talking about a 30,000-ish stadium all along. It’s the presence of a third tier of seats, albeit one that is limited to the area above the infield. I would have thought there would be financial and aesthetic reasons to keep this a two-tier stadium, which probably would have meant more standard seating in the outfield areas. Populous, the Rays primary architectural consultant, said those third tier seats directly over homeplate have great views and are popular for those buying less expensive tickets, which is why they opted to keep a small third tier available.

2. The variety of game-watching options. People consume baseball in all different ways. Some of us want to face the field and sit there, nearly immobile, for nine innings. Others, I hear, go to baseball games and actually want to talk to their friends. Others get restless and like to wander. The stadium design we’ve seen suggests a number of options. There is a section with seats that swivel; a section where you sit around tables; a few picnic-like areas. You can buy a (presumably cheaper) standing room ticket so if you wanted to stop by after work and catch a few innings while grabbing a drink you could do that. The illustration below gives you an idea of the various kinds of seating options that will be built in.

Image source u/chale19 on Reddit

Marc Topkin’s tweet of the screen at the announcement shows a rendering of some unusual outfield seating configurations as well. There is even discussion of workspaces with field views for anyone who “works at home.”

3. The openness to the elements and the baseball themed street that I refuse to call “Yawkey Way” because Tom Yawkey was a racist and anyway we do our own thing here in Tampa Bay. An open air stadium or a retractable roof appear to be impractical (see below). But having walls that can open, creating a through-fare for pedestrians is a compromise that allows the stadium to feel permeable and connected to the outside environment. And the closed off street at the approach can capture some of the vibrancy and liveliness that surround baseball stadiums as game time approaches.

But where’s the lazy river?

Of course some Rays fans have noted that there are a few things missing.

1. There is nothing like outdoor baseball played on natural grass. Anyone who thinks outdoor baseball would work in Tampa over the summer, however, should let me know because maybe you’d like to go do some weeding in my yard this afternoon.

The only way we get outdoor baseball here is with a retractable roof. I had said we are not talking money today, but I will note that a retractable roof would be even more insanely expensive than the fixed roof the Rays are planning (which is apparently some 30% of construction costs if I heard that correctly), and would largely be opened just to maintain the grass, since there are few summer days here with pleasant enough weather to play with the roof open. With no open roof, there is no way to grow and maintain grass (yeah I know there are domed football stadiums that roll up the natural turf and carry it outside for sun, but could you reasonably do that for 81 rather than 8 games a year?)

Real grass, then, appears to be unrealistic.

On the bright side, using artificial turf makes it easier for the Rays to follow through on their promise to make this a year round facility available for all kinds of activities – that February little league game won’t require hours of turf repair. And continual innovation in materials engineering means that the quality of turf as a playing surface gets better over time.

2. There have been a few expressions of concern that the design isn’t a good fit for historic Ybor City. I would argue that this stadium needs to have a design that “complements” (as per Rays Chief Development Officer Melanie Lenz) rather than imitates the architectural style of the neighborhood, largely built out one hundred years ago. First, there’s no way to get a domed 10 acre structure to look like it “belongs,” in the strictest sense, in a historic district.

Secondly, some of the best architecture and design figures out how to create modern looks that enhance the older landscape around them; fake historicism can look kitschy and honestly we’ve had enough wannabe Camden Yards designs to make us long for something different. So in that respect the overall design of the stadium is a good balance.

I hope, however, that more detailed drawings of the street level features will show some clearer references to rich built fabric found along Seventh Avenue. The brick of the cigar factories and the curves of the shopping street loggia offer great design references for some of the street level sections indicated on the renderings:

This is the start of a long process

The proposal gives Rays fans and Tampa Bay public and private sector leadership a good idea of what a stadium at this location will look like and how it will function. There is still a long way to go, however, before any of us can settle into a picnic suite to watch a game. As Tampa Bay area baseball fans, we are hopeful that this stadium plan can be realized, and look forward to sitting in the swivel seats while watching Brendan McKay pitch a complete game shutout AND drive in the winning run on opening day 2023.