Progress Being Made on Progressive Field Renovations
Bob Toth | On 29, Oct 2014
Remaining relevant may be a key mindset for the Cleveland Indians organization this offseason. It does not only apply to composing the best roster to take the field next season, but also to refurbishing a ballpark that looks to keep pace with all of the younger models built around the country in its shadow.
On a windy Tuesday afternoon, the Indians showed off some of these renovations and talked about future potential moves that are part of a multi-phase master plan that could give the 20-year-old Cleveland landmark and one-time social destination an additional facelift.
The goal throughout the renovations is to keep Progressive Field relevant while building strong connections as the landscape of baseball-viewing tendencies continues to evolve.
“We have to remain relevant,” said Jim Folk, Cleveland Indians’ Vice President of Ballpark Operations from the Home Run Porch at Progressive Field on Tuesday. “The way people watch baseball today is a lot different than it was ten years ago, or twenty years ago when we opened this great ballpark. There is much more of a social gathering element than there was when all that really mattered was coming in, sitting down, more or less staying in your seat for nine innings, and watching the game. Now, it is so much more of a social gathering event.”
The Indians organization did their research prior to jumping into the project, one whose cost was deemed “significant” by Folk. Funding for the project is private and provided through a partnership between the Dolan family and the Delaware North Company.
“This was entirely driven by focus groups, by conversations with season ticket holders, by surveys, by interviews,” said Folk. “We did our master plan work looking at the kinds of things we thought we wanted. Every one of those has been tested out with fans, with focus groups, with season ticket holders, ticket-buying people, as well as people that haven’t bought tickets. We want this to be a 100% positive fan experience.”
Significant work has already been accomplished in the four weeks since the Indians’ season came to an end in late September. With cooler weather already looming in the near future, the time table may be a tight one for the construction crews.
“We’re on schedule. I don’t think you’ll ever hear a construction guy say he’s ahead of schedule,” joked Folk. “The schedule is moving along. We’ve got in a lot of great work. We’ve had great weather. We’re in good shape as far as the schedule is concerned.”
Some of the most noticeable changes occur right of the batter’s eye in straight away center field.
The center field bar has been demolished. So too is the walkway connecting the seating area to the Gateway parking garage. Several sections of seats have been removed from the right of the Indians bullpen, leaving an exposed patch of dirt. What was once an area blocked off visually by various structures will now become a wide open space opening the ballpark to the city, with East 9th Street as the back drop.
“When we’re done, it’s going to be very similar to what you have here at the Home Run Porch at Gate A,” said Folk. “You’ll be able to get a good view in from outside the park. Looking in, you’ll be able to see the field. You’ll have a good view of what’s going on inside.”
Building off of the focus on having a good view, the mezzanine deck in right field was reduced in overall seating capacity. A portion of the deck was removed altogether, allowing a better view for fans in a concourse area that will be revamped to reflect on Cleveland’s various unique neighborhoods.
The walls of the Indians bullpen have been partially removed and will come down to make way for a new two-tiered bullpen. Having the bullpens stacked and not facing towards the field will help any errant throws from reaching the field, as was the case this season during a game against the Cincinnati Reds. It also will allow yet another seating arrangement providing fans with a different experience to the game.
“We are replacing both of the bullpens. They are going to be parallel and stacked in center field,” said Folk. “We’ll have the main concourse, a little bit below that will be the visiting bullpen, and a little bit below that will be our bullpen. Then, something really unique, there will be three rows of seats between the field wall and our bullpen. So as you are sitting there watching the game, you can watch our center fielder and turn around and see who is warming up to close out the game.”
Despite the changes to the bullpen, Folk assured that no other changes would be taking place to the field itself or any of the outfield dimensions, which have remained the same since the park opened in 1994.
“We are not doing anything to change the field other than making the bullpens better,” said Folk. “The fans throughout the ballpark will be able to see who’s up, who’s throwing. They’ll get a better view. Fans will also be able to get closer to the bullpens themselves than they have been before. We are really trying to increase that interaction and that connection.”
The current visiting bullpen will see its own cosmetic work as it will be covered with some seating, which will allow the ballpark to add some seats to replace those removed in center field and in the upper deck. The visiting bullpen pitchers’ bench will remain as part of this new seating configuration and will be accessible for fans during the game, giving fans “another unique view of the game from the field level”.
In the right field area, the Kids’ Clubhouse will be expanded into the eight suites above its current placement, making it a two-story affair and doubling its size. Concession stands and restrooms will be upgraded in the mezzanine area and additional interactive baseball activities for families and kids will be provided there.
A two-story bar and a revamped upper deck will provide fans with meeting places for social gatherings, continuing the theme of connecting the fans to the game and the city while providing them with their desired opportunities to mingle.
The bar was described as “a great social gathering space” having “great views of the game, great views back into the city”. The project in the upper deck will be used for pregame picnics and parties, but will be available for use for standing room only purchases for bigger games and playoff series, as necessary.
The overall attendance figures for the new layout are unknown at the present. Initially, team president Mark Shapiro had indicated a reduction in the overall capacity of around 5,000 seats. While seats have been removed from the lower reserve and upper deck, additional seating is being created in the vacated visitor’s bullpen and can be made up for in standing room tickets in the upper deck.
“We really haven’t focused too much on overall capacity because it will be flexible,” said Folk. “We will be able to use some of the platforms and some new areas for standing room to make up for some of the seats that are coming down.”
Knowing that the physical structure of the building at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario will change, the club did investigate the effect that the wind could have on the fans and on the game. A similar study was conducted when the park opened. Folk indicated that the team does not “anticipate any significant change”.
For now, the statues of Bob Feller and Jim Thome have relocated to the players’ parking lot for safe keeping from the renovations and the potential for harsh weather. Feller will return to a place outside of Gate C, where he has stood watch since the park opened in 1994, in the Feller Plaza. Thome’s home, as well as the home for the statue of Larry Doby next year, have yet to be determined.
“We are still working on exactly what the plan is [for the locations of present and future statues],” said Folk. “Bob Feller will be outside as he was. It was very important to us and to the fans and that whole connection to the city. There will probably be some more [statues] as time goes on.”
This is just the first step in keeping the ballpark relevant and current with the trending market, and a far easier one to consider when acknowledging that one team with a younger ballpark, the Atlanta Braves, will already be replacing their teenage model for a brand new one.
“We are looking at a multi-phase master plan that will probably take four years, five years, looking at all the different components of the building – our food service, the seating bowl, suites, sound system, all manner of things,” said Folk. “The entire fan experience is critical. We haven’t focused on any one project. We believe that there is more to come.”
Sound throughout the facility comes from the original audio systems. A new scoreboard was also discussed as part of the major capital repairs project.
With renovations well under way, the Indians organization is off to a quick start this offseason at the park. With lots of work left to do, they will look to regroup and provide a better product on the field, now that the home of the Tribe will be renovated and, hopefully, a relevant place for fans to come to once again.
That Indians fan base, reluctant to let go of the stadium’s old moniker, the team’s current criticized logo and nickname, the glory years of the ‘90’s, and the trades of three star players in the late 2000’s, will likely find solace in knowing that Progressive Field will remain the home of the Cleveland Indians for years to come, thanks to the investment being made by the ownership group and affiliated partners to ensure a quality baseball and social experience.
“We still love this ballpark,” said Folk. “Believe me.”
Photo: Bob Toth/DTTWLN.com