Making a tip-top Trop

A trip to the ballpark will be a nicer experience if the offseason fix-up is successful.

Published December 16, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The rebuilding Tampa Bay Devil Rays can't guarantee they'll have a winning record in 2006. But the team is promising that fans will see other improvements at Tropicana Field next season, including an exterior paint job and nicer restrooms.

It is all part of a roughly $10-million renovation, the most extensive work to be done at the stadium since the Rays' inaugural 1998 season.

Better yet for the city of St. Petersburg, the Rays will pay for the improvements. Local taxpayers shelled out more than $60-million to prepare the ballpark for the start of the '98 season.

The goal of the renovations is to make the much-maligned Trop a more pleasant place to see a ballgame, Rays president Matt Silverman said Thursday.

"We're going to welcome in more than a million fans next year and it's our job to deliver upon an experience that will make them want to come back for more," Silverman said.

The renovations will include major overhauls to the interiors of the premium Kane's Club seating area behind home plate, luxury suites and the soon-to-be-renamed Platinum Club along the first-base line on the 200 level. Four rows of seats will be removed in front of the latter and retractable glass doors will be installed along most of the club's viewing area into the ballpark to give it a more open feel.

But most of the other renovations will focus on less drastic cosmetic improvements. The Trop's grayish green exterior will be repainted, although the shade hasn't been chosen. Outdoor awnings will be added and new directional banners will be installed in the parking lot, parts of which will be repaved.

Inside the stadium, 35,000 seats will be scrubbed and repainted. Painted cinder-block walls on the 100 and 200 levels will be covered with stucco or drywall. Restrooms on the first two levels will be outfitted with new sinks and better lighting.

"We think of this place as our home," Silverman said. "When you invite guests to your home, you start with the basics, making sure it's clean and comfortable."

Silverman is coordinating the renovations with Rick Nafe, the Rays' vice president of operations/facilities and Ana Rabelo Wallrapp, an architect with Wannemacher Russell Architects of St. Petersburg.

Work began shortly after Thanksgiving, and is expected to be completed by the end of March.

"This is easily a one-year project that's going to be condensed into . . . months," Nafe said.

The Rays are considering installing a new sound system and even a large tank of live rays. Improvements being considered include a new scoreboard and large decorative murals along the stadium's exterior. Silverman said the team could end up spending $10-million on more renovations over the next several years.

The Trop and the Metrodome in Minneapolis are the only dome stadiums in Major League Baseball that don't have a retractable roof. One aim of later improvements will be to try to create an "outdoor feel" in the stadium as much as possible, Nafe said. "We're just out to make it one of the more fun ballparks to come to," he said.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report, which includes information from Times files. Louis Hau can be reached at hau@sptimes.com or 813 226-3404.