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This is the second in a series about the Tropicana Field site by members of ASPEC – the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College.
Imagine a hypothetical resident of Pinellas County, an urban dweller who loves to walk and lives near the Tampa Bay waterfront, with access to the long stretch of parkland along Beach and Bayfront drives, and a multitude of restaurants and cafes, shops, museums and performing arts venues.
But it has become crowded and likely will become even more so with the growing popularity of The Pier. Prices reflect this popularity, public transportation is limited, and parking is challenging at peak hours. Friends who live beyond walking distance are increasingly reluctant to come downtown, discouraged by weekend traffic and parking complications. What we need is another destination with a similar range of amenities: could there be another equivalent with all the draw of Beach Drive, an urban “beach”?
The current proposals for Tropicana Field redevelopment fairly scream the possibilities for such a destination. Within its 86 acres will surely be residential and office buildings, but apartments and offices need not occupy the ground floors, thus freeing up hundreds of units for restaurants, shops, convenience stores and medical services. Indeed, potential residents are more likely to be drawn to the newly constructed apartments and condos if recreation is within walking distance of home.
And this redevelopment project even has the special attraction of Booker Creek, the only creek in all of Pinellas County. This meandering waterway and adjacent parkland could, if managed creatively, be the central feature of the entire redevelopment. We could envision steep banks and natural plantings, grassy slopes and landscaped gardens, maybe a small fountain, and even a shallow lagoon, various paths, scattered benches and waterside restaurants, cafes, and pubs with tables and chairs under the trees. Either end of the creek’s Tropicana parkland might connect with public transportation or local trolleys.
Knowing that the Tampa Bay Rays may choose to remain in St. Petersburg, the redevelopment layout can reserve space for a new stadium in a manner which need not destroy the harmony of the rest of the community. For several reasons, the ideal location for a new stadium is the southwest corner, at the intersection of I-175 and I-275. The highest portion of a stadium contains the bleachers and boxes behind home plate and around the sides to first and third bases. This elevation is best on the southwestern side, with a line from home plate running east northeast through the pitcher’s mound to second base. Thus, the batter and spectators never face the sun, and the bleachers are gradually shaded as the sun moves.
Parking would be available under the raised levels of seating, with more parking in underutilized space under nearby raised highways. Further parking is possible in garages that are now parking lots on Tropicana property west of 16th Avenue and where the present stadium stands. Having the stadium in this corner location does not eliminate the exposure that it would have to the rest of the development, as the east, northeast, and north sides of the stadium can be lower and of very contemporary design.
Elsewhere in the Trop could be a small movie theater and a theater large enough to be used in conjunction with the stadium. All streets would be pedestrian friendly— some perhaps pedestrian only—featuring a variety of shops and restaurants. Office space would be varied in size and design to appeal to a range of businesses, from start-up to corporate. A range of residential accommodations could be provided, with green space nearby, playground equipment, pop-up art exhibits and small music venues. This could all be set off by an architecturally exciting convention center and hotel. The entire development would meet local needs for housing and employment, while sending a message of contemporary design and be an intelligent response to environmental considerations.
Janet Ferguson has been a member of ASPEC, the Academy of Retired Professionals at Eckerd College, for two years. She holds a B.A. in economics (Wellesley) and has been a researcher/analyst in Australia, Canada, and Washington, D.C.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer only. No endorsement of these opinions by ASPEC or Eckerd College is either expressed or implied.