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ST. PETERSBURG - With a little creative engineering, Florida's rainy, muggy nights will not spoil baseball under the stars, Tampa Bay Rays officials said Wednesday.
The team's proposed waterfront stadium will feature a retractable fabric roof, fans to circulate air and air-conditioned concourses with open views to the field.
The adaptations will eliminate rainouts, drop temperatures in the stands eight to 10 degrees and make the elements comparable to other major-league cities, the Rays said.
"We are not going to build a facility where people are uncomfortable," said Michael Kalt, vice president of development. "We are betting the future of the franchise on the fact that people will come to this facility."
The National Weather Service measures physical comfort with a "heat index" that blends temperature and humidity. By that standard, the Tampa Bay area is considerably sweatier in July than Chicago or Baltimore and slightly worse than Miami, with its sea breeze off the Atlantic.
The hot weather also lingers in the bay area through the end of the baseball season, unlike in many parts of the country.
The Rays play 81 home games during the hottest months of the year. Do fans really want to trade the pedestrian but air-conditioned haunts of Tropicana Field for a glitzier, muggier replacement?
The venture may hinge as much on psychology as temperature, Kalt acknowledged.
On the advice of Miami-based climate consultants RWDI, the team is fairly sure that the temperature/humidity combination of the proposed stadium will be a lot more comfortable than in Texas Stadium in Arlington, a little better than in Atlanta and comparable to St. Louis and Kansas City, Kalt said.
What's less clear is whether "comparable" is good enough for Floridians.
"There is a psychological element to this," he said. "You can't just throw out weather charts and demonstrate this empirically."
Plans for making the stands feel cooler are still under development, Kalt said. But some key elements are taking shape.
A 320-foot mast beyond left-centerfield will anchor cables that stretch back to a fixed roof that covers the concourse and some of the stands.
Flexible fabric, stored near the roof, can roll out along those cables toward the mast until it covers the field like a tent. The Rays said they will be able to deploy it in six to eight minutes if rain rolls in. That means no rain-outs or rain delays, they said.
The roof will remain in place during the day to keep direct sunlight off concrete and other materials in the stands, lowering their temperatures and making them more comfortable to sit on at night.
Some combination of fans and vents will help circulate air. Lightning "will not be a major issue," Kalt said. "We are not going to build something that will cause people to run to the concourses. There will be a clear grounding system."
Moving to an open air stadium would pad the Rays' bottom line in one respect, Kalt said.
Air conditioning Tropicana Field costs "millions and millions of dollars a year. That would drop significantly."