An evaluation committee comprised of the three Tampa Bay Rays representatives and four city officials is already considering two proposals for architectural and engineering services on a $1.3 billion ballpark.
Launching the design phase for Tropicana Field’s replacement this month is imperative to completing construction by Opening Day 2028. One of two firms – MEIS Architects or Populous – will commence the momentous project.
The committee will hear presentations and conduct interviews before making its selection Nov. 15. Kansas City-based Populous appeared to be the early frontrunner.
“I really like that they (Populous) are leading with trust, collaboration, communication and cohesiveness,” said Allison Mihalich, sustainability and resiliency officer. “I think that’s extremely important as we think about the Historic Gas Plant District and surrounding environment.”
Kansas City, Missouri-based Populous is a global design firm with extensive stadium and arena experience over the past 40 years. According to its website, the company has worked on over 3,000 projects totaling more than $60 billion.
University of South Florida officials selected the firm to design a long-awaited on-campus football stadium in Tampa. Mihalic credited the company for detailing its approach to mitigating environmental impacts in St. Petersburg.
However, she noted that Populous has worked on 135 ballparks, and only three received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications. The committee repeatedly stressed the importance of a new stadium achieving that global benchmark.
Bill Wiener, chief people and community officer for the Rays, said he was impressed by the firm’s staff availability. He called their proposal comprehensive and thoughtful.
“I loved how it was attuned to … our core values,” Wiener added. “And the other thing that jumped out was the Historical Gas Plant. They get that relationship, and they understand how important it is.”
George Dowling, senior director of building operations for the Rays, appreciated that women comprise nearly half of the project team. The selected firm must adhere to strict minority and woman-owned business requirements.
Dowling said Populous grasped the public-private partnership’s vision. Rob Gagliardi, chief financial officer for the Rays, echoed his colleague’s sentiment.
Gagliardi said the firm understood the importance of the stadium connecting to the Edge District. He said Populous recognized that “this is not just the Rays’ ballpark, it’s St. Pete’s ballpark.”
Gagliardi also credited the proposal for stating that “seats don’t drive revenue, experiences do. We want people coming back – not just attending a game one time – and that was really built into their approach.”
According to its website, New York City-based MEIS Architects has designed dozens of prominent national and global sporting venues. Those include Major League Baseball’s Safeco Field in Seattle and Miller Park in Milwaukee.
In 2020, MEIS merged with global architecture and planning firm Perkins Eastman. The company also listed multiple partners in its design proposal, and Gagliardi said he would like some clarity on what projects MEIS has led.
He said the company’s timeline was more concerning. Gagliardi explained the proposal mentioned visiting the site and meeting with project stakeholders but lacked a specific timeframe.
Wiener noted that MEIS committed one staff member to remain on-site throughout the process. “That’s not enough, in my personal view,” he said.
“I think we got to get into some more detail regarding the relationship with people in the Historical Gas Plant,” Wiener added. “But the approach, overall, hit all the high points.”
Raul Quintana, city architect, questioned what role Perkins Eastman would play in the project. He believes stakeholders could potentially leverage the global firm’s expertise and said the proposal referred to the group as a “dream team.”
Quintana credited MEIS for understanding the challenges of making an enclosed ballpark welcoming to the surrounding community. However, he said the proposal did not reflect the “criticality of the schedule.”
Brejesh Prayman, capital improvements director for the city, called MEIS’ approach “a little weak.” He said the team would spend several days on-site reviewing hazardous material conditions but did not mention gaining a better understanding of the Gas Plant’s historical significance.
“That relationship was lost,” Prayman said. “I think this is a team that’s capable under qualifications … but did not provide as strong of a project approach.”
The committee will hear presentations privately before publicly deliberating on the two proposals Nov. 15. While the evaluation process typically occurs at the Municipal Services Center downtown, the committee will select a design firm at the Campbell Park Recreation Center in South St. Pete.
City officials have yet to announce when the public meeting will start, and proposals remain sealed throughout the evaluation process.