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Talking new Rays ballpark: roof, tech and more

Tampa Bay Devil Rays proposal

We’re talking at least six years — and more likely longer — until a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark could open, but that’s not stopping the speculation about the ballpark’s design and budget.

This article from the Tampa Tribune makes it sound like we’re months, not years, away from any sort of ballpark decision, but that’s OK — that’s part of the fun about new ballpark chat. This is not uncharted territory, of course; we have plenty of previous proposals in the files, including the previous pitch from Populous and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for a waterfront ballpark at the Al Lang Stadium site, shown above. It encapsulates everything you’d want in a Florida ballpark: open access for those nice sea breezes, but cover against the inevitable afternoon shower. The Miami Marlins addressed this issue with a retractable roof that ends up being closed most of the time, although it serves one great purpose: it can be closed during the day so natural turf can be grown.

Marlins Park cost $639 million and the more technologically advanced SunTrust Park, opening in 2017 as home of the Atlanta Braves, cost $622 million, sans retractable roof. So the conventional wisdom would have a new Rays ballpark with roof and all the high-tech bells and whistles to approach $700 million. From the Tribune:

During the long-running public debate about the Rays, $500 million was often bandied about as an, er, ballpark figure for the cost of a new stadium. In more recent discussions, and usually accompanied by mention of a retractable roof, that number has hovered closer to $600 million.

The final price tag will depend on variables including cost of land, labor and construction costs, seating capacity and stadium amenities. But recent stadium projects suggest that even with a trend toward smaller, more intimate stadiums, $600 million may not be enough if the ballpark includes a retractable roof.

With industry estimates for that feature alone running as high as $150 million, Rays officials have been exploring alternatives to get fresh air and natural light into a new stadium, said St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse, who met with the Rays prior to the council’s Jan. 14 vote to let the team look for a new stadium site.

Now, without knowing site costs and specifics, like capacity and tech features, talk like this is tremendously premature. But it would be hard to see a new Rays ballpark without a roof, and given how fans and sponsors both like high-tech whistles like the ones we see in SunTrust Park, it’s hard to see a budget that doesn’t approach $700 million.

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