Design & Development

Rays set out plans for ‘most inviting’ ballpark in MLB

Images: Tampa Bay Rays/Populous

The Tampa Bay Rays and their ballpark design firm, Populous, have released new renderings and more details about the stadium they claim will provide the most intimate experience in Major League Baseball (MLB).

The $1.3bn (£1.02bn/€1.2bn) ballpark will be the focal point of the $6.5bn Historic Gas Plant District Development project, further details of which were revealed earlier this month. Officials from the Rays and Hines, its global development partner, presented to the St. Petersburg City Council the agreement negotiated with Mayor Kenneth T. Welch and his administration for the venture back in September.

The Rays neighbourhood ballpark, under the current working title of the Pavilion, is intended to be the anchor to the Historic Gas Plant District Development. At full buildout, the project will include upwards of eight million square feet of development including more than 5,000 residential units, 600 affordable/workforce housing units on the site and another 650 units elsewhere in the city, 1.4 million square feet of office/medical space, and 750 hotel rooms.

The approximately 30,000-seat ballpark will have a three-deck design and feature a variety of seating types, from premium clubs and suites to flexible viewing areas, decks and social gathering spaces. All concourses will include views of the field, and the park will feature a wide variety of fan amenities including a successor to the fan-favourite Rays Touch Tank Experience at Tropicana Field.

The Rays’ current home’s capacity for baseball is 25,025, but otherwise, the lowest capacity for an MLB ballpark currently stands at 34,830 for Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Guardians. Of the approximately 30,000 seats in the new three-tier ballpark, the Rays have said around 70% would be below the top level, with roughly 15,000 in the lower bowl.

“Our baseball park will be the most intimate and inviting in the sport,” said Rays president Matt Silverman. “The park is designed to bring our fans as close to the field as possible, to create a distinctive, compelling game experience.”

The ballpark’s design takes cues from that of a pavilion. The venue will feature a fixed roof, large windows that wrap around the building, as well as doorways and terraces that connect the inside and the outside together.

Porches play a key role in the venue’s design. The front porch historically played an integral social role in the former Gas Plant neighbourhood and across the city of St. Petersburg. The ballpark’s front porch will open up to a main plaza acting as a community gathering space within the Historic Gas Plant District.

“Designing this next-generation major league ballpark and development together within the heart of a great city is something that has never been done before,” said Populous principal architect Zach Allee. “The opportunity to do something unique, innovative and authentic for St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay Rays fans is truly exciting.”

In addition to serving as the home of Rays baseball, the 365-day venue will be fully integrated into the surrounding development and adjacent neighbourhoods. It intends to serve as a host to a variety of special events including concerts, festivals, conferences and graduations throughout the year.

The St. Petersburg City Council and Pinellas County Commission are expected to vote on the ballpark and development agreements in July. The Rays are proposing that construction on the ballpark will start in January 2025, with a view to it being ready for MLB Opening Day 2028.

Ahead of July’s vote, the Tampa Bay Times yesterday (Thursday) reported on a cache of agreements received by St. Petersburg City Council members that would enforce how a new stadium would be built, funded and operated.

The eight available documents are said to include an operating agreement that functions like a lease, a non-relocation agreement that would keep the team in St. Petersburg for 30 years and a development and funding agreement that breaks down how a stadium would be paid for.

It notes that most of the major details have remained the same as previous document drafts. For a $1.3bn stadium, the Rays will be responsible for $700m. The remainder will be split between Pinellas County, which will be responsible for $312.5m generated from hotel and short-term rental taxes, and St. Petersburg, which is relying on future increased property values to pay off $287.5m in bonds.

In January 2023, Welch selected a proposal from the Rays and Hines to develop the site on which Tropicana Field is located. The proposal was one of four that were received by the city, with others submitted by 50 Plus 1 Sports, Restoration Associates, and Sugar Hill Community Partners.