|Raymond James Stadium
Showing off a new home
Don't worry, you'll love it, is the team's message to fans..
By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 1998
he initial goal for Raymond James Stadium, in addition to playing host to the Bucs' home opener against Chicago on Sept. 20, will be soothing the fractured feelings of many of the people who ended up frowning during the construction and financing of the NFL's newest palace.
And there are quite a few.
But you know what? The stadium might just succeed.
"I think the one thing people don't realize about the stadium is how unique it is and how nice it's going to be," Bucs general manager Rich McKay said. "I think until you're in it, until you feel it and until you experience it, you're still relating it to the old stadium. You're still looking at it as a remodeled house.
"This is not a remodeled house, this is a new stadium with all the amenities you could hope for and has some uniqueness to it that will make it a true show piece."
The Bucs officials and government leaders who helped set the wheels in motion for the building of Raymond James were like competitors running an obstacle course.
So many hurdles and pitfalls, so little time.
First, there were scathing attacks against Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer whenever there was the slightest hint the team would leave Tampa Bay, and those were followed by heated debates over the community tax initiative the team sought to finance a new stadium.
Voters approved the half-cent sales tax, but then it was challenged in court by former Tampa mayor Bill Poe, who argued the referendum violated the state Constitution. He lost, but not before a protracted battle that almost derailed the project.
Finally, the concrete began to pour at what was originally known as the community stadium, and the Bucs had their first playoff season in 16 years.
But success has meant sold-out games and seat-charter deposits. All the fervor surrounding the team has been peppered with long lines of angry fans who couldn't get a ticket. Then there are the season-ticket holders who are upset they couldn't pick their seats, and unhappy with where a computer program placed them.
The message from the Bucs is clear: wait until you walk into the stadium.
"I think that the whole overall stadium will be just a little better than people can imagine. When they get in, they'll see that," McKay said. "I think the end zones set it apart. I think the club lounge will be second to none, better than anything in the National Football League.
"I think that the general seating area, because of all the seats being on the sideline and only a limited number being in the end zone, the sight lines will be fabulous."
The end zone will feature terraces where fans can congregate before, during and after the game. Behind the end zones will be two huge scoreboards with video replay screens that can show six different images.
Not only are the sight lines considered to be better than old Houlihan's, but the seats will have chair backs and are wider. There also will be more leg room.
The upper deck, known by critics as the nosebleed section, will actually put fans closer to the field than the folks who were in the upper reaches of Houlihan's. And McKay gladly points out that Raymond James will be one of the few stadiums in the league that has escalators to the upper deck.
Of course, Sept. 20 will be the first time any fans walk into Raymond James. There will be no test run or preview event before the Bears game, and that could lead to some fans being lost on a concourse.
"We're going to be staffed up with additional people to help those coming to the stadium," Tampa Sports Authority executive director Mickey Farrell said. "It's very important they follow that information when they walk down the concourse."
Farrell, who added the parking is completely different and fans should pay strict attention to directional signs, is fairly confident there won't be any major problems.
To help alleviate confusion, the TSA has sent out a glossy guide to season-ticket holders. It includes information about stadium services such as the designated driver/safe ride program, medical needs and Tag-A-Kid, which assists parents and their young children.
The brochure also has a number of color-coded stadium maps that show the location of everything: seats, concourses, restrooms, concession stands, first aid stations and video walls.
The brochure can be picked up in the TSA office at Houlihan's Stadium.
©Copyright 1998 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.