Tampa Bay Rays ballpark architect selected after other firm withdraws

ST. PETERSBURG — City officials and representatives from the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday only had one architectural firm to evaluate for the new ballpark.

The evaluation committee, made up of five St. Petersburg employees and three Rays representatives, met at the Campbell Park Recreation Center to rank the only two proposals received for architectural services for the new ballpark: Populous, which is labeled as “ballpark architect” in the Rays’ 2022 proposal to redevelop the Historic Gas Plant District, and MEIS architects.

But on Nov. 7, Dan Meis, founder and managing principal of MEIS architects, wrote a letter to the city’s procurement office stating that his firm had decided to no longer participate. He said the proposed format of a 30-minute presentation would not give adequate time to explain “what we believe would be our particular strengths and qualifications for a project such as this.”

“We have also seen and heard how devoted the Rays are to their long relationship with Populous, and how committed the City is to supporting this partnership, and thus respectfully withdraw our team from consideration,” Meis wrote. “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.”

According to the city’s bid request, the city would review the procurement process, which is required by state law, and select a firm on behalf of the Rays. The team would then begin contract negotiations with the highest-ranked firm.

Architectural design work is expected to begin this month and be completed by fall 2027. The Rays are responsible for the cost of “financing, developing, designing, constructing, and furnishing” the ballpark. The $1.3 billion covered stadium, open year-round, would be partially paid for with public dollars: $287.5 million from St. Petersburg non-property tax dollars and $312.5 million from Pinellas County’s tourism taxes.

The evaluation committee met Nov. 1 to choose a shortlist of firms based on their qualifications. Committee members said they wanted more clarity on MEIS staff members’ experience, staff availability and timeline, but ultimately decided to include both firms on the shortlist.

On Wednesday, the evaluation committee unanimously gave near-perfect marks to Populous, docking them only for neither being a small business nor a minority- or women-owned business. Representatives from Populous gave a presentation to committee members that was closed to the public prior to the evaluation meeting. Populous designed the Rays’ spring training facility in Port Charlotte.

“They could’ve mailed it in. They did not,” said city architect Raul Quintana, who led the meeting. “This is an outstanding presentation we received as if this was possibly a hit-or-miss thing for them. It was just an amazing, amazing effort and presentation we’ll remember for quite some time.”

Meis signed off his letter with this: “We remain convinced that our team could deliver a unique and valuable perspective to this project. As it is a very large and complex development, with significant design considerations beyond simply the technical aspects of delivering a covered ballpark, we would challenge the committee to consider the possible value of adding additional voices to your team of design professionals. Should another role materialize, we would be very interested to be considered.”