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Rays, Politicos Discuss Nine Potential Ballpark Sites

Tampa Bay RaysThe Tampa Bay Rays and political leaders from Tampa and Hillsborough County have compiled a list of nine potential ballpark sites, including a few locations that have already been identified in the media.

The meeting at the Rays’ Tampa offices today didn’t concern a specific ballpark design; instead, the Rays (who identified two potential ballpark locations) and the politicians (who brought in a longer list of seven locations) discussed how a ballpark would fit into the regional transit system, parking options, and fitting a ballpark into an urban dynamic where it can be easily used on off-days. That means some interesting choices are ahead for all involved. From the Tampa Bay Times:

[Hillsborough County Commission Ken] Hagan confirmed that the discussion touched on the Tampa Park Apartments site near downtown Tampa, as well as the Florida State Fairgrounds east of the city and the Jefferson High School site in the West Shore business district.

The downtown property where the ConAgra flour mill now sits did not come up, Hagan said. Previously, local officials have said the property likely is too small and moving the flour mill to a new home would be too expensive.

[Rays President Brian] Auld acknowledged that some of the sites discussed have not been the subject of as much public speculation so far.

Asked whether the discussion touched on the Heights property near the old red-brick trolley barn building — 49 acres just north of Interstate 275 on a scenic bend in the Hillsborough River — Hagan acknowledged that it was brought up, though he said the challenges included “specific design plans” for the property.

It’s way early in the process, and we don’t expect to see a winnowing of sites down until after the current season ends. And the Rays haven’t even begun talking with Pinellas County and St. Petersburg about any potential ballpark sites, which could include something in the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field area.

As the Tampa Bay Rays front office looks at ballpark sites, there also is a beginning of the process to determine exactly how the community should interact with the ballpark. We’ve see a lot of success among both MLB and MiLB facilities as of late serving as community resources year-round, and the unique advantages of the Florida climate in making use of the ballpark in the winter baseball offseason. To that end, the Rays intend on polling the public on what they’d like to see in a new facility. From the Tampa Bay Times:

“This is a really big community decision we have to make together and we want people to participate in it, to understand it, and know what we’re all getting into,” said Rays President Brian Auld. “Let’s hear your craziest, wackiest ideas and let’s see if we can make some of them a reality.”

Auld said the Rays have challenged their architect, Kansas City-based Populous, to throw out all traditional ideas of building a ballpark.

Among the concepts the team has floated are having the training facility double as a community wellness center, and for stadium kitchens to serve as a culinary institution or training facility.

This could be an exciting development if the Rays actually follow through. Most MLB front offices are incredibly conservative in terms of reaching out to the public in a non-baseball sense, but if the Rays are successful you can bet other MLB teams will be following suit.

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