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Old ballyard gets cleaner, fresher look

The most concrete result so far out of the Devil Rays' "Under Construction" promotion is a greatly spiffed-up home stadium.

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published April 5, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Most of the changes are subtle: clean seats, a softer color scheme and a better sound system.

Others are more dramatic, such as the rebuilt club section and new bathrooms.

In all, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays spent more than $10-million to brighten and improve Tropicana Field this year, a move they hope will boost attendance for the struggling team.

"At every turn, fans are going to see new surprises, upgrades and additions," said Matt Silverman, the team's new president. "They're going to feel that sense of pride in their home."

The improvements won't be completed by Opening Day on Monday. A planned facelift for the luxury suites isn't expected to be completed this season, and a new 30- by 20-foot aquarium that can hold up to 30 live rays won't be installed until July.

Silverman said the changes will be part of the Trop's allure.

"The intention was to complete 90 percent plus and that's where we're going to be," he said. "But our fans are going to know there's still some progress to be made and that each time they come back there's going to be more and more to see."

The improvements are just the latest in a series of fan-friendly moves by the new ownership of the Rays, including offering free parking in team lots, reducing some concession and ticket prices, allowing fans to bring food and certain drinks into the stadium and allowing tailgating in certain areas of the parking lots.

For a team with one of the lowest attendance records in Major League Baseball, there's not much to lose.

And the improvements won't change the most persistent complaint about Tropicana Field: It's still a concrete dome, described by the New York Times in a story last weekend as "dreary."

Silverman said he thinks the renovations may quiet some of those complaints.

"The building is not keeping people away," he said. "But it can be improved, it can help make the experience better. It can make the fan who typically comes once a year come twice a year because they had such a great time."

The goal was to make it a more welcoming place, said architect Ana Wallrapp, with Wannemacher Russell Architects.

"It's not a piecemeal design," said Wallrapp. "We wanted more of an overall theme."

The teal and white concrete block halls on the 100 and 200 levels were covered with drywall and painted muted shades of tan, lime green and blue.

The bathrooms - more than 40 in all - were renovated. Gone are the trough-like sinks and harsh fluorescent lighting. Now there are counters, softer lights and stucco walls.

As fans stroll the halls, they can watch the game on more than 200 flat-screen televisions installed throughout the building. The most dramatic change is to the area formerly known as the Platinum Club, which will soon get a new name. The walls were knocked out for an unobstructed view of the field. The seats were upholstered with faux black leather, and vinyl designed to look like bamboo covers the floors.

The entire building also received a good scrubbing, both inside and out.

On Monday, workers were still washing the walls with long poles, wiping away years of dirt and grime. By Wednesday, only one area was still streaked with dirt.

"We never had the capital to clean it before," said Rick Nafe, the Rays' vice president of stadium operations.

The building's 35,000 seats were washed, sanded and repainted. The exterior also was repainted and new awnings added.

Finally, comfortable black faux leather chairs were installed directly behind home plate. The seats typically cost around $205 per game, Silverman said.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 727 892-2273 or cjohnson@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 5, 2006, 22:30:06]


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