Proposed second St. Pete baseball stadium has a price, but no funding plans released yet

10/01/12 Janelle Irwin
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A local developer is trying to stimulate conversation about how to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. A group released plans last Friday for a new baseball stadium in the mid-Pinellas Carillon area that includes a retractable roof and a price tag, but no known way to pay for it.

Owners of the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t happy in their current home at Tropicana Field where many seats are often empty on game days. Speculation of moving the team across the Bay to Tampa prompted St. Petersburg Developer Darryl LeClair to do something about it.

“This map identifies the location of the three largest population centers in the Tampa Bay region. As you can see, Carillon is located in the center pretty much equidistant from downtown Clearwater, downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg.”

Carillon is nestled along the busy Roosevelt Boulevard and Ulmerton Road corridors and is home to some of Pinellas County’s biggest employers like the Home Shopping Network and Raymond James. LeClair said it’s also home to thousands of residents in condos, apartments and single family homes.

“Carillon captures the largest population and number of households. Carillon incorporates the largest purchasing power of the Tampa Bay market as both on a personal side as well as a corporate side. Carillon has total household income that is greater than Dale Mabry by $1.3 billion and greater than Channelside by $3.7 billion.”

Planners with CityScape gave the public a first glimpse of what had been nothing more than speculation. Their favored stadium plan would include a see through retractable roof and matching retractable wall, attached hotels, retail space and recreation areas. The price tag - $577 million. Chris Eastman, president of CityScape, wouldn’t say how the group planned to fund that financial undertaking.

“We are exploring multiple financing options. Right now it’s not prudent for us to talk about that given the fact that we’re not allowed to talk to the Rays. So, to divulge our financing blue print at this point without being able to talk to our future partner, the Rays, would just be kind of presumptuous on our part.”

The city and county’s portion of the debt on Tropicana Field will expire for taxpayers in 2016. When the Rays wanted a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Pete in 2008, proposed new debt would have extended payments thirty years. Whether or not a similar plan would unfold with a new stadium in Carillon isn’t known yet but LeClair claims the second stadium wouldn’t put taxpayers on the hook for any more than they are already paying for the Trop.

“There would be no incremental, direct burden on the local taxpayer if we proceeded with one of the programs that we’re thinking of.”

The new stadium plan also depends on whether or not the Rays can break their contract to play at Tropicana Field for another 15 seasons. St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster said he wants the team to stay downtown, but would consider amending the contract to let the Rays move to Carillon.

“You know, as long as we’re looking at St. Pete options, having 85 acres of develop-able land in an urban setting, especially with the economy kind of changing, it’s attractive. We’ve got the best downtown anywhere and having 85 develop-able acres is certainly something that is a part of this equation.”

Concerned fans have also wondered if a stadium in the crowded Carillon area would have enough room for adequate parking. CityScape president and CEO Eastman said it does.

“There are over 14,800 parking spaces in the park today, a lot of which aren’t even being used during the day. So, with that said and the fact that we’re going to be adding over 4,300 spaces upon build out of our particular plan, there are well in excess the number of parking spaces required for a 35,000 seat baseball stadium.”

A lot of new stadiums are being moved out of suburban areas and built in downtown areas – like the stadium in Baltimore where the Orioles. Eastman said the group is planning the opposite because more than enough fans can access the Carillon location within a thirty-minute drive. But right now the tens of thousands of downtown St. Pete residents can easily walk to baseball games. Eastman argued the walking component will still be a part of the Carillon stadium plans.

“I mean there’s a network of sidewalks and boardwalks throughout the park that are used today. As I said in the presentation, we are planning on supplementing that with additional boardwalks, sidewalks and making it very pedestrian friendly. Across the street, you know, obviously it’s a little bit urban across the street – there’s some wetland area to the south – but there’s no reason why it can’t be as walkable as possible.”

St. Pete Mayor Foster agreed.

“You lose it in downtown St. Pete, but you pick it up in the Carillon with masses of people whether they’re there working or living or the retail element. I think where you lose in one place, you pick up in the other.”

A new stadium could be more environmentally sustainable than the Trop. Planners are looking at ways to minimize utility costs by using rainwater collection for toilets. And Christian Agulles, managing director of the Washington D.C. WSP group office said they’re also looking at a cooling system that would use a series of pipes carrying chilled water through ceilings.

“What we know from looking at the utility rates is electricity is much cheaper off peak than it is on peak. So, we use that already optimized central cooling plant and we use it to make chilled water at night and we store it at night when we pay half of the energy to cool the plant.”

There are other less expensive options for a new Rays stadium in Carillon ranging in price from $424 to $548 million. The cheapest build would be an entirely open-air stadium, but the team of architects and planners discourages that plan, saying that more than half of Rays games are affected by some type of inclement weather.

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