The selection of a company to complete architectural and engineering services on a new $1.3 billion Tampa Bay Rays ballpark was decidedly anticlimactic.
An evaluation committee comprised of three Rays representatives and four city officials considered two firms for the first step in a monumental project. However, MEIS Architects withdrew its proposal before today’s announcement.
That left Kansas City-based Populous, the apparent frontrunner at the initial evaluation meeting, as the sole applicant to design Tropicana Field’s replacement. While city architect Raul Quintana noted that the selection was a mere formality, he said the committee should still discuss the firm’s presentation before announcing their scores.
“Populous hit a home run today,” said Rob Galiardi, chief financial officer for the Rays. “From their experience – not just with stadiums but especially Major League ballparks – they’re a leading architect in that field.”
According to its website, Populous has worked on over 3,000 projects totaling more than $60 billion throughout the past 40 years. University of South Florida officials selected the firm to design a long-awaited on-campus football stadium in Tampa.
What the Rays/Hines development team hopes to accomplish in the Historic Gas Plant District has drawn frequent comparisons to The Battery Atlanta. The massive, mixed-use development surrounds Truist Park, home to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Atlanta Braves.
Populous provided architectural, interior design and wayfinding services for Truist Park. Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner, called the ballpark “beautiful” and believes it is “the future for baseball.”
The evaluation committee now hopes Populous can provide similar results while incorporating concepts unique to St. Petersburg. Galiardi called their selection a win for the Rays and the surrounding community.
George Dowling, senior director of building operations for the Rays, said the firm’s comprehensive proposal encompassed what stakeholders hope to achieve. He said company officials hit all the team and city’s “high points” during their private presentation.
“I think they hit a grand slam, in my eyes,” Dowling added. “A little bit more than a home run.”
He said Populous understood the ballpark – part of a $6.5 billion, 86-acre redevelopment project – needs to provide more than a place to watch baseball. Dowling believes the firm will help create a regional destination for people of all ages.
Several committee members appreciated the firm’s focus on experiential design. Allison Mihalich, sustainability and resiliency officer, said representatives also assuaged any environmental concerns.
Honoring the Historic Gas Plant’s heritage is a long-stated priority for city and Rays officials. Lyle Miller, senior principal for Populous, told the Catalyst that his company has embraced that challenge.
“We see it as a great opportunity for this ballpark to be a unique and very transformative design,” Miller said after the meeting. “We have had a great history working with the Rays and the City of St. Pete, and we’re excited about being selected for a project that can transform St. Pete.”
Dan Meis, founder of MEIS Architects, cited those relationships in a withdrawal letter dated Nov. 7 and addressed to the city’s procurement and supply management office. He believes the Rays are “devoted” to Populous and that city leadership supports that partnership.
“We appreciate that you provided an opportunity for other teams to compete, but it is sometimes the case in our industry that a qualified team is so far out in front it makes it extremely difficult for those other teams to justify the investment to throw their hat in the ring for consideration,” Meis wrote.