ST. PETERSBURG -- Making the best of their situation at Tropicana Field, the Rays unveiled their plans for a major renovation to their home ballpark that will be in place for the 2014 season.
"These renovations reflect our constant commitment to providing a first-class gameday experience at Tropicana Field," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a release by the team. "A visit to the ballpark will be even more enjoyable because of these new features and attractions."
While the Rays have made no secret they would like a new stadium, they continue to try and improve the fan experience at Tropicana Field.
Tuesday morning, a contingent of club officials handed out hard hats before leading a media gathering through some of the construction currently taking place at Tropicana Field.
Prominent among the improvements is the creation of walkways behind the outfield seating area and opening up what had been the Batters Eye restaurant into center field for an open-air meeting spot. The end effect is 360-degree pedestrian circulation around the lower bowl that will allow fans to never lose sight of the action taking place on the field.
Rays fans already enjoy a similar sensation at Charlotte Sports Park, the team's Spring Training facility in Port Charlotte, Fla.
"This project will significantly enhance the total ballpark experience," said Rays senior vice president of development and business affairs Michael Kalt. "It will make it much easier for our patrons to navigate the ballpark, and allow them to enjoy the game from exciting new areas and dynamic new vantage points."
Kalt noted that the Rays wanted to give their fans a more intimate feeling at the ballpark. In addition, they wanted to show commitment to the fan base in the region. The price tag for the project will be approximately $750,000 and will result in the removal of approximately 3,000 seats, mostly to accommodate the new outfield walkways. Capacity for regular-season baseball games at Tropicana Field in 2014 is expected to be 31,042.
Having improved pedestrian circulation will provide easier access to and from ballpark gates, concessions and activity areas throughout the facility. Existing cross aisles in the lower bowl will be extended from the left- and right-field foul poles to create a walkway lined with drink rails as it winds toward center field.
The renovations will also create a more dynamic experience in the area just above the center-field wall previously occupied by the Everglades BBQ Smokehouse. No longer a walled- and glassed-in space set apart from the game, it will be transformed into a unique patio with open views of the playing field and new food and beverage areas easily accessible to all ballpark patrons.
A new deck overlooking the Rays Touch Tank will connect the patio to the new walkway at its right-field entrance. A more traditional batter's eye structure, meeting all Major League Baseball specifications, will also be installed.
As a result of the renovation project, visitors to the ballpark will be able to access the entire lower seating bowl directly from the escalators located at the main rotunda entrance of Tropicana Field.
The Rays partnered with award-winning sports architects Populous, who designed the renovations to Charlotte Sports Park.
The current project builds on the more than $20 million the Rays have invested in Tropicana Field since 2006, including the creation of the Hancock Bank Club, major improvements to the interior of the ballpark, the installation of new video boards and sound system, as well as the addition of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame located in Center Field Street.
Renderings of the project are also available for fans to view at raysbaseball.com/rays360. Fans will be able to access additional content and images via the Rays' social media channels (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) using the hashtag #RAYS360.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.