Oldsmar mayor unveils Rays stadium plan

Conceptual rendering of the proposed Tampa Bay Rays stadium complex in Oldsmar. According to the plans, the site would be home to a 35,000-seat stadium, plus surrounding parking, office, retail, restaurant and residential facilities and would sit on 120 acres of land on Race Track Road.

For years, Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis has been playing with the idea of bringing the Tampa Bay Rays to his city located at the top of Old Tampa Bay, but many people questioned whether he was serious or not.

Late last month, Bevis made it clear his idea is not a joke.

During what the mayor called the first ever press conference in the city's 100-year history on Oct. 27, Bevis revealed his conceptual master plan for a new Rays stadium and mixed-use development complex, which would be built over 400 acres of land spanning both sides of Race Track Road near Tampa Bay Downs and includes hotels, retail shops, restaurants, a movie theater, high-rise residences and a two-story driving range.

"About three and a half years ago, we met with outside council for the Rays and discussed the idea and the property and got some feedback from him," Bevis said. "And when we asked if this was crazy and should we go back home, he said no, every site is gonna have issues, but the one thing that your site has that other sites don't have is one property owner that has property in both Hillsborough and Pinellas County, which has the ability to get funding from both counties."

The vote of confidence from the team persuaded Bevis to move forward with his plan, leading the mayor to enlist Semsch's firm, FSA, Inc., to produce the conceptual designs for the project.

During the hour-long presentation, which featured a PowerPoint presentation, computer animation and nine conceptual design boards, Bevis and Semsch outlined how their plan addresses the six criteria the Rays have set for the proposed stadium sites, including regional connectivity, site accessibility, development readiness and financial feasibility, and local authenticity.

"The CSX rail line corridor ... runs from downtown St. Petersburg, up through the middle of Pinellas County, through Largo, through downtown Clearwater, through Safety Harbor and then it runs just south of the potential Rays site we're talking about," Bevis said when addressing the regional connectivity criteria. "It continues into Hillsborough County ... and then there's also a spur that runs off it north in Hernando County, and we think if that can be converted into a passenger train line, that would be a huge asset for this stadium location."

Bevis, who also sits on the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), said the future plans for light commuter rail and expansion of bus routes would also benefit the site. "No matter where the stadium goes, the PSTA is committed to make transportation to the stadium the best that it can be," he said.

While the presentation was professional and comprehensive, questions remain about the feasibility of putting a Major League Baseball stadium and mixed-use complex in a city that is only 10 miles wide and is home to just 14,000 residents. But when pressed about the influx of traffic such a development would produce, Bevis and Semsch were unfazed by the worries.

"Sixty-five thousand cars a day travel down Tampa Road," Bevis said. "I don't envision another 20,000 cars on top of that going to the game. I envision a lot of those 65,000 cars are going to be the ones that are going to be going to the game. So I don't see it as big of an impact that other people do. We're used to the traffic."

"The Rays understand there will be traffic concerns with any of the proposed sites, and they will come up with solutions to it," Semsch, who has worked on many projects in Oldsmar and produced the conceptual plans pro-bono, said.

Despite the many qualms and questions surrounding his idea, Bevis is optimistic about his city's chances to become the next home of the Tampa Bay Rays, and he believes it is his duty as leader of the city to think big as Oldsmar heads into its second century.

"If you know anything about Oldsmar, we think big, and we dream big," he said after the meeting. "Everything starts with a vision - historically, that's how Oldsmar has thought. The way the town looks now was a vision, and my thinking is, dream big or go home."

Based on the reaction of a team executive that attended the conference, the mayor's big dreams could become a reality one day.

"We really appreciate the effort, and sharing it with us, as we continue to do our due diligence in regards to potential stadium sites," Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Operations Rick Nafe said after the meeting. "It's too early to compare it to the other plans - in fact, this is one of the earliest submissions we've received so far - but it's got some interesting facets to it. I can't wait to get into it a little deeper and explore it further."