Dome falls short for disabled fans
By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- Forty-two Tropicana Field seats counted as wheelchair accessible really aren't, the U.S. Department of the Interior has determined.
With those seats disallowed, the federal investigator wrote, the dome is 29 seats short of the 446 that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires at the 44,476-seat dome. St. Petersburg owns the stadium and leases it to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball team, which runs it.
"The 32 noted wheelchair spaces in the club lounge area are not acceptable," Equal Opportunity Program Manger Dianne A. Spriggs of the National Park Service wrote. The Park Service, part of the Interior Department, enforces the ADA at sports stadiums.
Non-disabled fans who buy a club level ticket get a club-level grandstand seat with a good view, plus access to the view-obstructed lounge, Spriggs noted.
"The exception is a wheelchair user and companions, who may purchase an obstructed-view ticket in the lounge (with no access to the grandstand) when there are no other accessible spaces available," she wrote. "This situation denies the wheelchair user an equal opportunity to receive comparable benefits of the programs at this stadium."
In addition, 10 upper deck spaces for wheelchairs fail to provide enough clear space for wheelchairs to get in and out, Spriggs found.
She disallowed an additional 42 "companion spaces" in both areas for people who attend with a fan in a wheelchair. That leaves the stadium 29 seats short there, as well.
It was unclear how much any modifications might cost or whether the team or the city would have to bear that expense.
"My understanding is that from the beginning we've been in complete compliance for ADA requirements for the number of seats and the like," Devil Rays general counsel John Higgins said and added that he had not reviewed Spriggs' report Monday. "If they are raising the point about certain seats, we'll take a look at it as to whether we're in compliance."
Higgins said the city's architect for a renovation of the stadium in preparation for the Devil Rays 1998 inaugural season was supposed to make sure the dome met ADA requirements.
Local disabled access activist George Locascio requested the Interior Department's July inspection of the major-league baseball stadium by complaining about those seating areas. He also complained that the dome's handicapped-accessible restrooms fell short of ADA requirements.
Spriggs report upholds several of those complaints as well:
Toilet flush valves improperly block the handrail behind handicapped-accessible toilets.
Many paper towel dispensers block a wheelchair user's path to the toilet. Many accessible restrooms lack wheelchair signs.
"Obviously, I am extremely pleased with the report," Locascio said Monday after his copy arrived in the mail. "I think it gives us just about everything we could ask for, this being an existing facility."
Spriggs also found that handicapped parking spaces need pole-mounted identification signs, that some storm grates might pose difficulty for wheelchairs and that a special event tent sometimes set up on grass outside the dome is not accessible. She directed the city to send a plan of correction by Dec. 15.
City Attorney John Wolfe said it will take several days to decide what the federal report means.
"We need to look at it, and go over to the dome and take a look at what they are talking about," he said.
On the whole, Spriggs wrote, "much has been accomplished to provide access through the major renovation ... however, as discussed, there are concerns."
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