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Tampa Bay Rays lift lid on ‘next generation’ ballpark

Major League Baseball franchise the Tampa Bay Rays have unveiled plans for a “next generation” ballpark that will be the most intimate in the league and feature a striking translucent roof.

The Rays and architectural firm Populous yesterday (Tuesday) revealed their design proposal for the ballpark located in Ybor City. The Rays have played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg since debuting in 1998. However, St. Petersburg granted the franchise permission to seek out new locations for a ballpark two years ago and the Rays in February settled on Ybor City, a historic Latin neighbourhood near downtown Tampa.

The headline design element is a translucent roof accounting for 30 per cent of the project cost that would fully enclose the ballpark to ensure comfortable temperatures and game certainty. Sliding glass exterior walls beyond centre field and behind home plate seek to bring the outside in, offering views of Tampa, Channelside and Ybor City, as well as cross breeze in pleasant weather.

The ballpark would be the smallest in Major League Baseball, with 28,216 fixed seats and a total capacity of 30,842. A small upper level creates the closest vantage point of any modern ballpark, with a maximum distance of 204 feet from the field. Fans will be able to choose from 17 seating areas, or 21 viewing platforms and social gathering spaces. These areas are connected by a 360-degree concourse featuring complete views of the playing field.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said: “I speak for the whole Rays organisation and the 20 years we’ve had here today that we expect to be here for generations to come. We believe that baseball can not only survive but thrive in Tampa, in Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay region.”

The Ybor location is within a 30-minute drive of over 1.6 million people who call the Tampa Bay area home. The ballpark is projected to cost $809m (€689.5m), with additional infrastructure costs of $83m, and could be complete for Opening Day 2023.

Under the terms of its agreement with St. Petersburg, the Rays have until the end of the year to secure a new home. The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field expires in 2027. If the Rays leave before the end of 2022, the team is reportedly liable to pay the city $3m a year for the remainder of the contract, with this figure dropping to $2m per year after that.

Terms for the financing of the new ballpark were not disclosed at yesterday’s presentation, with a number of elected officials stating that taxpayers would not be responsible for a sizeable share of the cost.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said that while the ballpark would be a great addition to the city, Tampa would thrive with or without baseball, stating that elected leaders will have to find “creative ways” to fund the project.

“I think there’s a value to this; I’m going to do everything I can to keep them here and find a way to do this deal,” Buckhorn said, according to the Tampa Bay Timesnewspaper. “But I also have to recognise it may not be doable and we’ll walk away from this.”