Rays' tally reports parking is plentiful

A study may ease fears about a new stadium.

By Aaron Sharockman, Times Staff Writer
Published March 12, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - Hoping to refute one of the strongest arguments against a downtown waterfront stadium, the Tampa Bay Rays released an exhaustive parking and traffic analysis on Tuesday that suggests the area can handle a crush of cars on even the busiest nights.

The 123-page study, paid for by the Rays and performed by a national parking consultant, identified 13,400 parking spaces that could be available for baseball on weekday nights. The number increased slightly for weekend games.

In either case, the study says, the spaces could more than cover a sellout crowd of 34,000 at the stadium proposed for Al Lang Field.

The analysis estimates each car will hold 2.9 people, based on Rays ticket and parking figures and experiences in other cities.

"It's a conservative estimate," said David Wallace, a partner in the firm that conducted the study, Rummel, Klepper & Kahl of Baltimore, which has done similar studies for stadiums in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

"We simply didn't say, 'There's a 600-car garage, we're counting 600 spaces,' " Wallace said. "We studied how the spaces are used. We factored in the distance to the stadium."

Overall, the Rays say, the study offers a cautious assessment of the parking spaces potentially available to the Rays:

- None of the approximately 7,000 on-street parking spaces in downtown are included in the analysis. In fact, the study suggests the city increase parking fines to prevent fans from parking on the street. "We want our fans in garages and in lots," said Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt.

- A percentage of the spaces farthest from the proposed stadium - but still within three-fourths of a mile - also were excluded. The theory is those parking options will be less frequently used.

- The study assumed everyone was driving a car to the game. It did not attempt to quantify the number of people who may walk, or use a bus. It also did not guess on future parking options other than at Tropicana Field.

- And the study did not count some of the spaces in lots of 200 or smaller. Those lots would be more difficult to locate and, therefore, less frequently used.

Of the spaces the Rays say are available, 10,700 are within three-fourths of a mile of Al Lang Field, and another 1,700 spaces could be available at Tropicana Field. Shuttle buses would take those people to the game, similar to the parking system for the St. Petersburg Grand Prix.

The study says ample parking relies on the cooperation of government and private business, a conclusion that also emerged from a St. Petersburg Times analysis in November.

Of the approximately 1,850 spaces at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the Rays estimate using 1,200 for night games.

Progress Energy's 341-space garage would have 279 spaces available for baseball, according to the Rays' proposal.

Other potential parking options include city and county lots, the garage at St. Petersburg College's downtown campus, church lots and the lots of the St. Petersburg Times.

In each case, the business would keep the parking revenues.

But hurdles remain. Among them, working out agreements with the nearly 20 entities for access to the lots, as well as ensuring a plan for ballpark patrons to find them.

Rays officials on Tuesday offered letters of interest from All Children's Hospital and Bayfront Medical Center. Together, they could offer more than 1,500 spaces.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg also is open to discussions, Kalt said.

Kalt said the study should alleviate one fear associated with the proposed $450-million ballpark: The numbers, if anything, are overly conservative, he said.

"We told the consultant: 'Don't tell us what you think we want to hear,'" Kalt said. "We said we wanted to hear the truth."

City officials, who received the traffic analysis Tuesday morning, had not yet begun to review its contents, said senior development administrator Rick Mussett.

The city is planning its own internal traffic analysis and also is planning to hire an independent consultant to review the Rays' work.

City staffers are expected to submit a preliminary report on the stadium proposal, including the traffic analysis, to the City Council on April 18.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.