St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

A whole new ball game

Show up early to Bright House Networks Field and don't park across U.S. 19 for the opening of the Phillies' new spring training facility.

CHRIS TISCH
Published February 27, 2004

CLEARWATER - A parking spot could be a hot commodity at the unveiling of the new Bright House Networks Field at Phan Fest today, so city officials are urging people to get there early.

Also, don't be surprised if traffic clogs the main roads leading to the field, all of which are riddled with some form of construction.

City officials say Phan Fest, which is expected to draw up to 7,000 people, should be a good start for upcoming Philadelphia Phillies spring training games. The team kicks off March 4 against the love 'em or hate 'em New York Yankees.

"This is kind of our first run at the stadium," city of Clearwater spokeswoman Joelle Castelli said. "This is trying out the traffic plan and the parking plan."

Though traffic could be a headache, city and team officials predict a fun time inside.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the new $30-million stadium, 601 Old Coachman Road, and will immediately be followed by Phan Fest, the annual celebration of the Phillies' spring training season.

Lawn chairs, coolers and umbrellas are not allowed, though fans can bring towels or blankets, Castelli said.

Phan Fest activities will include player autographs, tours of the 200,000-square-foot facility, a climbing wall, bounce house and fireworks. Concessions also will be available.

Because the festivities begin around rush hour, city officials say getting there early is a good idea.

"I'm anticipating we're going to have quite a traffic issue," Clearwater police Sgt. Greg Stewart said.

Parking in front of the stadium entrance is reserved for the handicapped, VIPs and the media. Police said those folks should get to that lot by taking the temporary bridge from southbound U.S. 19.

Other fans will have to find parking spots in the 1,200-space lot at Joe DiMaggio Field, an expansive dirt lot at Drew Street and Old Coachman Road. There are two ways to enter: From Old Coachman Road or from westbound Drew Street.

Fans can also head to the Carpenter Field lot, a 300-space area off Old Coachman Road.

Phan Fest parking is free, but will cost $5 once games begin.

"Hopefully, we'll have enough parking spaces," Castelli said. "And if we don't, that's a good problem."

Police said fans who park at any other location are doing so at their own risk. Retailer Target is not allowing parking on its lot, nor is St. Petersburg College or the Virgin Mary building at 21649 U.S. 19.

In fact, police are strongly urging people to not park anywhere across construction-plagued U.S. 19, which will be dangerous for pedestrians to cross.

Police officers will be posted on U.S. 19 to dissuade people from parking across U.S. 19 but will also help across those foolish enough to do it.

"It's a dangerous situation," police spokesman Wayne Shelor said.

People may find luck parking on nearby residential streets, but police stress they will be towed if they choose a no-parking spot. It's also a code violation for residents to offer their yards for paid parking, so the pickings could be slim.

Police also urge fans to be careful walking to the stadium from their cars. Motorists hunting for parking spots may not be closely watching where they are driving. Pedestrians should use crosswalks and sidewalks at all times.

There will be 23 police officers patrolling the stadium for the event, 11 of them outside working parking and traffic control. Their work is being paid for by the Phillies.

City officials are hoping the traffic and parking problems will be diluted since fans will be coming and going through the night. Once the fireworks are over, however, traffic could clog up again, police said.

Castelli said city officials plan to review parking and traffic plans after Phan Fest to see if they can make improvements.

"I think (today) will be fine," said Leigh Tobin, the Phillies' director of media relations. "It's tough to tell after that. We can only do so much with the space we have."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.