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Major League Signage

The signage behind Tropicana Field’s facelift

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Since its humble beginnings, the game of baseball hasn’t really changed all that much. But baseball stadiums have. Today’s stadiums require more than four bases, a field, seats and some hot-dog stands. To attract spectators, stadiums must be comfortable, convenient and offer entertainment outside of the game itself. So, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made it to the major leagues, the team’s St. Petersburg, FL, home — Tropicana Field — underwent a massive renovation, not the least of which included some high-impact, digitally printed signage.

Florida’s climate dictated the field be a domed stadium. However, the Devil Rays’ managing general partner, Vince Naimoli, envisioned something more akin to the neighborhood feel of Chicago’s Wrigley Field or the Yankee’s stadium in New York. This proved challenging, however, because Tropicana Field’s location isn’t exactly in a neighborhood. Naimoli’s solution? Create a neighborhood-like atmosphere within the stadium.

Another concern was sunlight. Planners wanted the stadium to have an "outdoorsy" feel, despite the dome and temperature-controlled environment. So they made the dome translucent enough to let some sunlight in, but fully enclosed to keep the temperature constant.

The dome, the world’s largest cable-supported, domed roof, is made of six acres of translucent, Teflon-coated fiberglass. It basically supports itself with the help of 180 miles of cables attached by struts. Because the slanted roof decreases the air volume under the dome, climate-control expenses are kept down, and the dome can withstand winds of up to 135 miles an hour. But the domed roof is just one feature that makes this stadium a one-of-a-kind renovation.

In all, Tropicana Field underwent a 15-month, $70 million facelift, which began in October 1996. The idea behind the renovation was to create a ballpark that restored design elements from the past with the convenience and comfort of a modern-day park. For starters, an additional 310,000 square feet had to be added to the park. So the first thing was to find an architectural firm that could handle such a massive job.

Enter Tampa Bay-based Lescher & Mahoney/DLR Group. The firm specializes in designing baseball stadiums. In fact, the firm has worked with at least 12 baseball teams, primarily designing Major- and Minor-League spring-training facilities. But this project was the firm’s first for a Major-League baseball stadium.

According to Project Manager Stan Meredith of Lescher & Mahoney, the biggest challenge was "working around an existing project within the constraints of a very tight budget." As such, the company was very cost-conscious in every aspect of the building process, including the signage. Despite the constraints, however, the stadium’s renovation has a number of features that successfully create an outdoor field indoors.

Meredith notes, "There has been a lot of evolution in the design of baseball stadiums in the past 10 years. So, the renovation wasn’t about finishing what was started (when the stadium was first built), it was really taking inventory of what was there and rethinking what was originally constructed."

One major improvement was re-creating the main entrance to the stadium. Most of the parking lot was to the east, but the main entrance was on the southwest side. In the newly remodeled dome, a rotunda marks the entrance. Historically, a rotunda is a design element that identifies an entry, and Tropicana Field’s magnificent entrance is also a throwback to the way ballparks were designed at the turn of the century. As Meredith says, "It really brought some historicism (to the project). The real movement in Major-League baseball stadiums is to the turn-of-the-century ballparks. That kind of concept is hard to create with an existing dome, but by adding a rotunda, we added some historical reference." Just like the old Ebbetts Field rotunda in Brooklyn, this one is a grand space, measuring 856 feet in diameter with glass skylights six stories high above it.

Once inside the stadium, visitors find themselves in a place called Centerfield St. Because the stadium is not in a neighborhood, the neighborhood atmosphere is "faked" inside the stadium. Here, phantom entities give the feeling of cruising down a street just outside the stadium: a microbrewery, a cigar bar, a wine cellar and entertainment venues. Additionally, interactive game spaces, another trend in present-day baseball stadiums, were included to entertain kids.

And it seems to work. In fact, according to Meredith, reaction to the stadium’s redesign has been very favorable. He says, "It’s very bright inside. People have said it’s not like being in a dome, it’s like an indoor ballpark, which is a nice compliment. Most domes are dark, dreary and symmetrical, and don’t have a lot of life to them. But this stadium is pretty interesting because the field is asymmetrical."

Also, the foul territory on the field was reduced to add more seats, some of which are just 50 feet behind home plate. In all, there are 45,200 seats. And, rather than creating advertising spaces that interfere with the overall aesthetics of the park, the concept of "passive advertising" was employed. As such, advertising is "built-in" to murals, depicting scenes in conjunction with the particular theme in that area.

Major league signage

A major part of this stadium’s renovation included entirely new signage to coincide with the baseball team’s new image, and to compliment the overall renovations. Tampa-based Universal Sign Corp. is no stranger to big sign jobs. The company, founded in 1926 in New York by Malcolm and Cyrille Steiner, expanded to Tampa in 1988. So when Tropicana Field’s renovators needed signage, Universal Sign made a pitch and won the bid.

Sign fabrication began in October 1997 and was completed in April 1998. The company built and installed the more than 1,600 signs required for the new stadium. The signs include: dimensional sculptures and trusses; directional graphics and panels; stadium identity signs; regulations; restricted-use information; and entry and area graphics.

The directional signage, designed by Douglas Gallagher, Washington, features a blue, green and yellow color scheme with the team’s Devil-Ray logo on some of the signs. The blue and green colors allude to the water, and are inset with the Devil Ray image; the yellow, which lies above the blue, refers to Florida, the sunshine state. And the classical letter style gives the signage an old-style ballpark feel.

The majority of signs were digitally printed, a job which Universal Sign subbed out to Ad Graphics Inc., Pompano Beach, FL. AdGraphics printed the signs on 3M Industrial Adhesives & Tapes Div. vinyl using Scotchprint

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