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Details emerge on new Rays ballpark

The team behind the look of a new Rays ballpark are sharing details about a potentially innovative ballpark design, uniquely positioned for ever-changing weather conditions faced by Tampa baseball fans as well as meeting expectations of the modern fan experience.

Despite the months of warm weather enjoyed in south Florida, that warmth comes at a price, whether it be a hot midday sun for more than half the year or that inevitable late afternoon rain shower impacting attendance for a night game. A retractable roof is one solution, but as we’ve seen in other Southern ballparks ranging from Miami to Houston, a retractable roof usually means a closed roof.

As we saw with the initial release of ballpark renderings presented to city officials, designer Populous and the Rays are seeking a path different than an expensive retractable roof and are letting the south Florida climate do the work by proposing what can best be described an indoor-outdoor ballpark. Instead of fixed walls in the outfield, fans will be presented with windows and doors that will let in the evening breezes and allow game attendees to walk in and out of the ballpark. A traditional seating plan would be scrapped in favor of the open seating—lots of discrete seating areas, including SRO, terrace and group seating in different arrangements—found in many Minor League Baseball ballparks. And, like the open concept used in Fort Wayne where portions of Parkview Field are open to walkers and picnickers most days, the third base side of the ballpark could be viewed as a concourse open to all on non-game days, giving a neighborhood feel to the new Rays ballpark. From the Tampa Bay Times:

The idea is a ballpark that offers a more flexible fan experience than a traditional bleacher seat you sit in for nine innings. The stadium would have windows and movable doorways to promote an outside/in — or inside/out — feel to the building, and fans will be able to wander throughout the stadium.

“It’s not so much about opening up to the sky,” Populous principal Zach Allee said. “We want to invest in our views out and bringing the community in.”

“Everyone would love to have outdoor baseball here in Tampa, but it’s just not feasible with our weather and lightning. We would have more games missed than played,” said Walter P. Moore senior project manager Dylan Richard. “This will allow you to be inside and still be able to feel like you’re outdoors and experiencing baseball.”

If you’re a loyal reader of Ballpark Digest, all of this should be very familiar to you: an open concept for a ballpark design is common in Minor League Baseball and proving to be popular with fans. We’re been writing for years that no one expect a modern fan to sit nine innings in a single seat, with many choosing to wander the ballpark and take in the game from several vantage points. Recent MLB ballparks–both new and renovated–have taken some steps toward an open concept, as proposed here, but none have made the commitment to a radical change in MLB design as we’re seeing here. (It is a trend we’ve seen work at modern NFL stadiums like Allegiant Field and SoFi Stadium.) If the Rays do make the leap into something so new, look for other MLB teams to make the leap to downsize their ballparks, move toward more adaptable seats and smaller capacities, use design to encourage fans to wander the ballpark and take further steps on the renovation front to present an airier fan experience.

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