How to expand a minor league ballpark

I’ll start off with an excerpt of a post on the SkyscraperPage forum:


In response to your question regarding Raley Field, it was not built expressly to be easily expanded in the future. The stadium was designed specifically for its current tenant, Triple-A Baseball, and all of the comfort and intimacy that makes Triple-A Baseball so successful. That said, in the unlikely case that we would want to expand the ballpark to accommodate a larger capacity, the stadium would need significant adjustments but likely not need to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch.

I hope this helps. Take care, have a great holiday season and go River Cats!

Gabe Ross
Assistant GM, Director of Media Relations
Sacramento River Cats Baseball Club

“…not built expressly to be easily expanded in the future.” So you can’t simply slap an upper deck on top of Raley Field and then call it a day? Imagine that.

The operative question regarding Raley Field isn’t, “Can it be expanded?” but rather “How expensive will it be to expand?” Any stadium, as long as there is space, can be expanded, whether it’s a ballpark, football or soccer stadium (this means you, Quakes fans). The issue is whether or not it’s cost effective to do so. In the last post about a Mt. Davis-oriented Coliseum remodel, I mentioned that $250 million has to be the baseline or minimum cost because that’s how much is being spent on renovations to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Expansion could cost more, it most certainly won’t cost less.

Raley Field was planned with the idea that it could eventually hold a major league team, and in an arguably easy manner to boot. What happened from conception to construction to change this?

Blame it on the rain

In Fall 1999/Winter 2000, Northern California was deluged with incredible amounts of rainfall. Raley Field had a short 9-month construction period, and the rain put the schedule severely in jeopardy. In addition, the team and West Sacramento wanted to adhere to a $40 million budget, which doesn’t sound like much in terms of ballparks but at the time made Raley Field one of the most expensive minor league ballparks in history. Eventually, the ballpark opened over a month into the 2000 season. Coincidentally, the River Cats were forced to play home games at the Coliseum to high school basketball game sized crowds.

Rain made the construction period longer, which incurs additional labor cost. Precipitation also caused a rethink in the construction methods. Changes were made almost on the fly, including a major structural modification:

Because of the time restraints the initial design was changed from steel H-columns to poured-in-place reinforced concrete columns, and supporting the suite level with prefabricated steel trusses.

The structure ended up looking like this:

Up top is the view from the concourse, with the suites above. Below that is a picture of the underside of the Solon Club down the rightfield line, though the image is curiously flipped.

It’s pretty clear to this untrained eye that the beams and girders above the concourse were not designed to handle to load of a level of suites and a massive upper deck, especially in earthquake country. The change is an important piece of value engineering that will make expansion more expensive, should a MLB team be interested in Sacramento. Assuming that the concrete columns are built to handle both suites and an upper deck (I have no reason to believe otherwise), new structural work would probably have to be in place above the columns. That means the entire existing upper level, which contains the Solon Club, suites and the press box, would have to be demolished. That’s just as well, since these amenities probably aren’t up to modern MLB standards, especially the small press box.

But wait there’s more!

Every new ballpark has some 3,000 or more club seats. Seats are often disbursed between two different club levels: one at a mezzanine level, one at field level behind the plate. Nationals Park has taken this a step further by having three separate club areas, while designating all lower level seats behind the plate as club seats. If you want to sit behind the plate without paying through the nose, be prepared to have your nose bleed. I digress.

The Solon Club has 450 club seats, which is not sufficient. In a renovation they’re going away, to be replaced by more luxury suites. There’s also the Founders Club, the primo seats behind the plate which have at-your-seat food service but no club concourse of their own. Let’s say that the area behind the plate gets ripped apart to accommodate such a transformation, a la the Scout seats at US Cellular Field. That’s probably good for 500 seats.

Where do the other 2,500 go? The only place would be the front of the upper deck, above the luxury suites. It’s not a premier spot for such seats, but it was done successfully at PNC Park, so there is a precedent. Go this route and you have to build two new concourses – one for the club and one for the regular upper deck. To understand the impact, take a look at some cross-sections. Before:
We’re talking about triple, quadruple the amount of concrete that was used for the original ballpark. The new structure also requires greater amounts of high-strength steel, with enough concern for seismic safety that it’s not out of reason to overbuild the structure (PETCO Park).

Getting to the minimum

Adding up the expansion looks like this:

  • Existing seating capacity: 11,093
  • New right field seating to replace berm: 5,000 (berm held 3,000)
  • New upper club: 2,500
  • New upper deck reserved: 12,000
  • New left field bleachers: 2,000

That brings the estimated new capacity to 32,500. Plus there are some not-so-miscellaneous items:

  • Additional construction work would be required, mainly the move of the clubhouses from left field to under the lower seating bowl.
  • Can’t have a wraparound double deck grandstand in right because that would block the view of Tower Bridge and the Sacramento skyline.
  • The railroad track (inactive?) that wraps around the outfield limits space a bit.
  • New ramps, elevators, and escalators would be required and would be expensive.
  • Planners might have to figure out a way to include a third gate somewhere. Two gates as currently constructed aren’t enough to handle nearly triple the crowd size.
  • New scoreboards and ribbon boards would be required. As a reference point, compare Kauffman Stadium’s new “crown” HD video board in center, which was installed last year for $8.3 million.

Given all of that, I’m pretty sure that the whole thing would cost a lot more than $250 million. No, they wouldn’t have to demolish Raley Field and start from scratch. But they’d have to demolish a lot of it.

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