Friday, September 28, 2012

CityScape LLC announces its detailed proposal for a new Rays stadium along Carillon Parkway in St. Pete

Posted by on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 6:04 PM

St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster said he was blown away by Cityscapes presentation on Friday
  • St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster said he was "blown away" by CityScape's presentation on Friday
At the beginning of their two-hour presentation to build a 35,000 seat baseball stadium in the Carillon area of St. Petersburg, Susan Johnson, the Executive Vice President of CityScape LLC, said there were three key questions that needed to be asked and answered.

Does it fit in the tightly enclosed area? And can you park there in the tight 12 undeveloped acres in the Carillon area? Yes and yes again, she answered.

But the final and crucial question: can you pay for it? Nobody has the answer to that at this time.

But even if the ballpark is never built, most observers were extremely impressed by the vastly detailed presentation given to members of the Rays organization, Mayor Bill Foster, the St. Pete City Council, members of the Pinellas County Commission, and several hundred members of the community who filled a large conference room inside the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillion Park Friday afternoon.

Afterwards Mayor Foster said he was "blown away" by the presentation, which CityScape officials said was two years in the making.

"It was so much more than I expected," Foster told reporters afterward. "We opened the box to the jigsaw puzzle. We saw the pretty picture on the box. Now let's start putting the puzzle together."

Developer Darryl LeClair laid out what the team from CityScape had accomplished by going to the findings of what the ABC Coalition produced two and a half years ago. That was the first stadium study done in the wake of the Rays forgoing a ballot measure in 2008 on building a waterfront stadium on the site of Al Lang Field.

The ABC group said that there were three viable locations to build a new ballpark in Tampa Bay: Carillion, the area near Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, and the area near Channelside in Tampa. LeClair said that studies that his group would unveil would show that based on traffic patterns alone, the Carillon site would be much more attractive going forward.

Following LeClair was Steven Kurcan, project manager for CityScape. He showed a variety of maps and statistical information that said that Carillion now and in the future was larger in population than either Tropicana Field (the current home of the Rays), Dale Mabry (the Raymond James site) or Channelside, in terms of residents and near-by workers.

And he mentioned how Major League Baseball has said that anything longer than a 30-minute commute to the ballpark is problematic, and said that the Carillon site is within that time travel from downtown Tampa, downtown St. Pete and downtown Clearwater.

What about parking? Officials said that there are over 14,800 parking spaces available at Carillon Park right now, and they would add 2,000 more. Over 90 percent of those spaces are empty after 6 p.m., when the majority games would take place.

However, there are about 10 home games a year that are played during the day during the week. That would be a major issue.

The park would be augmented by a hotel, retail stores and apartments. In all, the entire site would take up 23 acres, with the ballpark composing half of that amount.

The design of the park itself closely resembles Marlins Stadium, the new ballpark for the Miami Marlins baseball team that opened this past April. That stadium features a retractable dome and a transparent glass-wall in left-center field.

The presentation was so organized it came with recommendation on improving the roads for easier ingress and egress, such as adding lanes to Ulmerton Road and Roosevelt Boulevard.

Also speaking at the presentation were representatives from HKS and WSP-Flack + Kurtz, groups that have worked on constructing similar stadiums in Seattle, Dallas, Indianapolis and other major venues.

Cityscape threw out five possible scenarios in terms of design and its accompany price tag.

The most expensive would be set at $577 million and would include the aforementioned retractable roof and transparent wall. Variations on that would reduce the price somewhat, with the lowest proposal being virtually unrealistic - an open air stadium. That would cost $424 million. But Chris Eastman, the president of Cityscape, said "we wouldn't recommend that."

At the end of the presentation, CityScape's Susan Johnson said it would be possible to build the park with "no direct burden" on local taxpayers.

That was music to the ears of St. Pete City Council Chair Leslie Curran, who said "that's what we need to see. How can we move forward? What are the options? And that was not presented today, and I understand why."

Curran has been one of Mayor Bill Foster's toughest critics in calling on him to get off the stick and begin engaging the Rays, who do have a contract mandating them to play in Tropicana Field until 2027.

However Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has said for years that the team won't fulfill that lease, saying they need a new park. In recent years he has gone further, saying that downtown St. Pete is not a viable place to play.

But Foster has refused negotiating with the club, saying a contract is a contract. Foster said today what needs to happen is for the Rays to sign an amendment to their contract that allows the city to sit down with CityScape.

"The amendment is something that I proposed two years ago and it's a critical step," he said, adding that "both of us are married to Tropicana Field. We can't do anything else. "

Councilman Jim Kennedy says he has supported Mayor Foster's attitude up until now towards the Rays. He said he's hopeful the Rays will sign that amendment to the lease.

"I think the mayor has done what he needed to do.....and hopefully this will develop some dialogue with the Rays. Hopefully this will give us a new starting point."

Susan Johnson with CityScape concluded the presentation by asking for direct dialogue with the city and the Rays.

The next step is up to Rays owner Stu Sternberg.

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