Monday, January 21, 2008

Forgotten Bay Area Stadiums, 1/26/83

The Tampa Bay Rays’ plans to build a new, $450 million stadium in downtown St. Petersburg should come as no surprise to longtime residents of the area.

Designing baseball stadiums
and then debating suitable locations for them is as much a local pastime as the game itself. Only twenty-five years ago this month, rival groups representing Pinellas and Hillsborough counties pitched their designs for stadiums that would serve as home for a to-be-determined team.

On January 26, 1983, the city of St. Petersburg and the Pinellas Sports Authority held a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony at the corner of 16th Street and Third Avenue South. The 66-acre site, known as the Gas Plant, eventually would be developed into Tropicana Field. But on that day, the PSA announced the facility would be called Pinellas Suncoast Stadium. An artist’s design of that stadium evokes the current model being trumpeted by Rays management.

Bill Bunker, executive director of the PSA, touted the stadium’s tent-like covering as being more economical than a traditional dome. And much like the current plan that features a lightweight synthetic polymer sail, it would protect fans from the rain but not the heat.

Earlier that week in 1983, the Tampa Bay Baseball Group unveiled their design for a 46,000-seat stadium on the site of Al Lopez Field next to Tampa Stadium. Like the stadium design on the other side of the Bay, the Baseball Group also envisioned a fabric-covered – but not domed – stadium.

Within six months, however, both groups would alter their plans and opt for covered stadiums. The Baseball Group’s design called for a Teflon roof that would reflect solar heat while relying on open sides for ventilation. The Pinellas group opted for a fully-covered, air-conditioned facility. The debate currently going on in St. Petersburg over open-air versus domed stadiums is clearly nothing new.

So while concepts that were quickly discarded two decades ago are being recycled today, we should fully expect to see the Rays’ current plans in another 25 years – much like the stadium plans of January 1983 – located on the scrap heap of history.

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