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By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 18, 2007
[John Corbitt | Times Illustration]
On his second day running the Tampa Bay Rays, principal owner Stuart Sternberg tipped his hand about plans for an open-air baseball stadium.
We just didn't know it then.
"Ideally you want to be outdoors when it's beautiful and you want to be indoors when it's not," Sternberg said Oct. 7, 2005. "We will explore certain possible new technologies that develop and might give us the opportunity to keep out the weather but sort of keep in the environment."
Now we know what Sternberg had in mind.
The Rays won't reveal their drawing for the new ballpark they are proposing on the downtown waterfront. But based on discussions with people who have seen renderings of the team's version, the St. Petersburg Times created its own.
If the Rays' dream ballpark is ever built, it would be one of a kind. Picture an outdoor stadium where Al Lang Field now stands.
Out past left field looms the city skyline. Over center, the Pier. To right, Tampa Bay.
A grass berm rings the outfield. A new grassy park borders the north end of the stadium.
A steel roof covers the top of the horseshoe-shaped grandstands.
Above that, hundreds of yards of fabric sails are stored. A series of cables runs from the roof to a mast in center field, 300-feet-tall. Other cables arch across the stadium to help create a form.
Then, the storm comes.
With a push of the button, the fabric starts to unfurl. It rises toward the hulking center field poll.
When it's in place, the fabric covers the stands and most of the field. It provides shade for the field and the seats, and protects fans and players from the rain.
The concept for the Rays new stadium is unique. No major league baseball stadium has a fabric roof that covers the field, but keeps baseball outdoors.
Most roofs that retract are built on a rail-like system. In Houston, where the Astros play, the entire roof simply slides off on a track.
In Milwaukee, the roof of the stadium opens and closes like a Japanese fan.
But designs like those take room. They probably wouldn't fit on the Rays' preferred site, Al Lang Field, the team's spring training home. And they tend to be expensive.
An industry expert said the Rays' sail could cut temperatures in the stadium by as much as 20 degrees.
And home runs could still reach Tampa Bay.
How hot would it be?
As innovative as it may sound, there are plenty of questions regarding the Rays' design. Lots of them have to do with structural engineering.
But a more pressing issue remains.
Outdoor baseball in St. Petersburg? In July?
Though Tropicana Field consistently is listed near the top of baseball's worst stadiums list, it was built with a dome on top for a reason.
The average high in St. Petersburg during July and August is 90 degrees. On average, there are nearly 15 inches of rain in those two months.
"I'm a Rays fan who kind of likes that 72 degree temperature," City Council member Jamie Bennett said recently.
According to experts, the fabric the Rays choose could help mitigate concerns about heat.
Rick Hughes, project manager at Sky Shades, an Orlando-area company that sells fabric coverings, said a fabric roof could keep parts of the stadium 20 degrees cooler during the hottest parts of the day.
The fabric, a lightweight synthetic polymer, would reflect 70 percent of the visible light and 99 percent of the more dangerous UV rays, Hughes said.
But the fabric allows enough light to pass through to play a baseball game during the day.
"It's very doable," Hughes said. "In fact, it's being done."
Soccer stadiums in Australia, Europe and Asia are being constructed using similar technology, Hughes and others said.
None look like the Rays proposal, but most work in the same general way.
In Japan, the 45,000-seat Toyota Stadium has a fabric roof that slides into place almost like a roll-up door. In Spain, a bullfighting ring has a circular roof that lifts and slides away.
The Rays said Friday they likely will unveil more details about the new 35,000-seat stadium by the end of the month.
Roof specifics secret
The circle of people who know about the roof's design is small. It includes city and team officials and the architects and consultants themselves.
Bart Dreiling, the president of a Kansas City company that deals in fabric roofing products, said a stadium architect recently showed him a design for a Florida ballpark.
Dreiling remembers the designer saying the stadium was top secret. The architect never said where in Florida the stadium was. And Dreiling never asked.
"It could have been the Devil Rays," Dreiling said. "It might not have been. I can't say."
In any event, Dreiling was reluctant to talk about that specific project.
But in general, Dreiling said what the Rays may be considering is certainly possible.
The team has hired a Minnesota consulting firm to help engineer the roof's movement.
Uni-System has designed the roofing mechanisms for three major league stadiums - football and baseball stadium in Houston, and the football stadium in Phoenix.
Cyril Silberman, Uni-Systems' founder and CEO, said he is prevented from discussing the Rays roof because of a confidentiality agreement.
But he, too, said what the team is proposing is feasible.
"It can be done," Silberman said. "The Europeans have played around with it, making retractable fabric roofs.
But "not anything like what the Rays want."
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at email@example.com or 727 892-2273.
Q&A: The stadium
Is that drawing what the new stadium will look like?
The drawing is based on the recollection of several people who have seen the team's version. Talks focused on the roof structure as well as the grass berms and stadium roof.
How does the sail work?
Fabric panels are stored on top of the roof and are attached to cables that extend to a 300-foot-tall pole in center field. When the roof is activated, the cables unfurl the fabric and pull it toward the pole.
Will it prevent rain outs?
Mostly. The fabric will cover the stands and most of the field. Parts of the outfield could be exposed, especially under windy conditions.
What about the heat?
Experts say the fabric reflects most sunlight. One expert said the fabric could provide up to a 20 degree difference during the day.
[Last modified November 17, 2007, 22:58:27]