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Translucent roof at heart of plan for new Rays ballpark

The Tampa Bay Rays have unveiled plans to create the most intimate ballpark in Major League Baseball (MLB), but question marks remain as to how the project will be financed.

The Rays and architectural firm Populous yesterday (Tuesday) unveiled their design proposal for a next-generation, neighbourhood ballpark located in Ybor City.

The headline design feature 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. Dramatic 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 most intimate 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 (£609.4m/€689.5m), with additional infrastructure costs of $83m, and could be complete for Opening Day 2023.

Sternberg said the Rays are expected to play at their current Tropicana Field home in St. Petersburg for at least four or five more years. However, 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.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the ballpark would be a great addition to the city, linking Ybor and downtown. However, he added that 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 Times newspaper. “But I also have to recognise it may not be doable and we’ll walk away from this.”

Image: Tampa Bay Rays