20 Years Is Enough

Turner Field and Chase Field opened for baseball in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Turner Field was a gift to Atlanta courtesy of the 1996 Summer Olympics, whereas Chase Field was a domed stadium borne of necessity in order to host the expansion team in the searing Sonoran Desert summer. Both are in the 15-20 year-old range, putting squarely in a sort of venue midlife crisis.

The Braves are leaving Turner for the richer suburbs in Cobb County. Turner will be renovated again and reborn as a football stadium for Georgia State University’s growing program. Georgia State had been playing its home games at the far-too-large Georgia Dome. They’ll play one more season there. Come Fall 2017, they’ll play in the reconfigured (and soon-to-be-renamed?) Turner, where much of the baseball grandstand will remain intact. The seats in right field will be ripped out, replaced by a new smaller grandstand that will run parallel to the sideline. Georgia State bought both the stadium and the surrounding parking lots for $30 million, all of which will be transformed into additional athletic facilities, dormitories, and academic buildings. GSU’s main campus is in downtown Atlanta, a similar distance between San Jose State’s main campus and its south campus, where Spartan Stadium and other outdoor facilities are located. Final capacity of the redone stadium will be around 30,000, 33% smaller than Turner’s baseball capacity and less than half of the Olympic stadium configuration.

turner_football_stadium

Turner Field renovation for Georgia State University football

Speaking of 30,000, that could be the new capacity of Chase Field, if an investment group that wants to buy and renovate the ballpark has its way. A partnership headed by Integral Group wants to modernize Chase and develop a few blocks of unrealized potential between the ballpark and Talking Stick Resort Arena down the street. Plans were approved for redevelopment of that area outside the ballpark in 2008, squashed by the recession. Integral is notable for being one of the partners in Ronnie Lott’s plans for the Coliseum which will include at the very least a new Raiders stadium. There are also plans (or at least space) for a ballpark should the A’s have any interest, though it’s unclear how that would pencil out.

To push the Chase concept further, Maricopa County is looking to sell Chase Field for at least $60 million, depending on appraised value. That value could include those additional blocks along Jackson St. Phoenix is undergoing a resurgence which started in earnest around 2013, thanks to numerous tech companies opening campuses near Tempe and Scottsdale, along with gentrification of some of the older neighborhoods in Phoenix. The County’s motivation isn’t primarily to spur development. They’ve been in quite a battle with Dbacks ownership over who’s responsible for $65-137 million in improvements to the stadium. They already rejected the lower figure, meant to cover peripheral items like scoreboards, suite refurbishment, and cosmetics. Major projects such as reimagining the upper deck and outfield concourse are well down the road.

FanFest

Diamondbacks FanFest with Chase Field roof closed

If I were looking to rework Chase, I’d look entirely at the block containing the stadium. There are 3-4 acres of additional space outside the walls that isn’t properly used. The photo above shows what it looks like with the roof closed. Gigantic ads that double as windows (when the weather cooperates) dominate the view. When the roof is open for games, the place transforms into an almost fully outdoor park. It’s not as complete a transformation as Safeco Field or Minute Maid Park, but it’s close.

Limitations imposed by the building’s design and the need for an air-conditioning environment prevent a full opening of the outfield. The contents could be rebuilt to great effect. A gym exists in center behind the batter’s eye, with parking dedicated to it. All of that should be scrapped and rebuilt as a children’s play area and a midway with rides and a carousel. The current children’s area is in the upper deck left field corner, notable only for having the stadium organ located there as well.

The main plaza on the west side where most of the gates are is also wasted space. It deserves a revamp with restaurants and bars that are open more than on game days. There should also be a way to directly connect the buildings in the plaza to the ballpark so that the whole area can be navigated outside the stadium.

Back Camera

Then there’s that 30,000 figure. That doesn’t happen without knocking down most of the upper deck. Like US Cellular Field, that should help to make the place look less cavernous. Once that’s done they’ll have to put something behind the seats to fill that space. They don’t need more suites or amenities up there. Tacky looking signage? Curtains a la an arena? A second partial roof inside the original roof? It’s a tough task to make Chase Field look intimate.

While the Phoenix market’s economy has rebounded, downtown near the sports venues is still not a hotspot despite the numerous venues (ballpark, arena, convention center, theater, ASU’s downtown campus, museums). It’s largely event-driven, with more interesting restaurants and bars on the other side of downtown. It goes to show that no matter how much money and resources is thrown at a neighborhood it doesn’t always translate into a lively district.

downtownPHX1

20 years later, the area between the ballpark and arena remains mostly parking

Fortunately for everyone involved, the ballpark is debt-free and has been for years. Same goes for the arena. Like Oakland, Phoenix and Maricopa County find itself trying to please two teams looking for new venues at the same time. There’s no inherent competition between the teams for sites or land, but they will be pushing for resources. In the past Maricopa County financed numerous sports facilities using a car rental tax, which has now been deemed unconstitutional. A similar tax just for the City of Phoenix is also being challenged. Phoenix owns Talking Stick Resort Arena. And finally, the Dbacks have the option to veto any purchase of the stadium by a third party. The Dbacks previously discussed buying the park from Maricopa County, which seemed like that most natural route at the time. Let the team make the investments since they’ll get all of the proceeds. The process may end up with such a deal happening since the Dbacks are the linchpin to everything. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. The Dbacks could attempt to leave Chase Field completely in search of a location outside downtown Phoenix, but without the aforementioned tax revenue streams a move threat doesn’t have legs. There’s a really good shell at Chase that could be fixed up into a fairly intimate ballpark for far less than the cost of a new ballpark.

20 thoughts on “20 Years Is Enough

  1. So they’d reduce capacity at Chase from 48,000 to 30,000. Wow. Does that say something about decreased interest in baseball or what?… A couple weeks ago, at my kid” school, the kids were playing soccer. And what were they using as the goal? The baseball field backstop, of course. Fewer kids playing the game, diminishing interest, bad news for MLB.

    • They’ll just get players from Latin America, which they’ve been doing for a while now.

      • Of course, kids who grow up with no interest in baseball are not exactly prime candidates to spend $50-$100 on a baseball game ticket. Doesn’t bode well for players’ salaries in the future.

    • The less is more theory appears accurate about ballparks. The smaller ballparks with less capacity look better. Soccer is too boring, many fans aren’t interested in viewing a typical 1-0 soccer game snoozefest.

      • is soccer attracting some kids who might otherwise play baseball? You bet it is. Are these kids less likely to grow up to be baseball game-attending fans? You bet. Hockey is also drawing some kids away, I’ll bet. The #1 pick in the NHL draft this year was from Arizona. He’ll play for Toronto.

  2. 20 years is enough?

    Well, for whomever owns the A’s if ( when) they ever build a new ballpark, and if it happends to be anywhere in the Bay Area when that amazing feat takes place, they (the A’s owmers) will asuritly know that their new ballpark must last much more then 20 years…

    • The Coliseum will 50 years old next year for the Raiders and 2017 is the A’s 50th year there. Old Enough?

      • Actually, the Coliseum will be 50 years old next month. It opened in September 1966. And the A’s will actually celebrate their 50th year in 2018.

      • The A’s’ 50th anniversary and 51st year is in ’18

  3. Honestly, the MLB and all professional sports leagues have become greedy as hell. I’ve been to Turner Field before and can tell you there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that stadium. The Braves move was all about them not wanting to play in a Black neighborhood, which is ridiculous because stadiums/arenas have historically been in Black neighborhoods, from Candlestick Park to the Forum in Inglewood, and have done well. Wasn’t the whole idea behind the move towards building new stadia was so that they could last more than a couple of decades so to not be a continuous burden to taxpayers. I thought the whole concept with newer stadiums like Turner Field and Chase Field was to make them timeless like Dodger Stadium. I used to think taxpayers footing the bill was worth the civic pride of having a professional sports team, but at this point I feel like the owners of some of these teams are just bullying the taxpayers.

  4. As many 18-25 year olds now identify soccer as their favorite sport as baseball. First time ever- my kids who fall in this demographic grew up playing baseball but prefer soccer now- 90 minutes you have an outcome compared to 3 hour plus baseball games-

    • The fans at Quakes games are insane. Nonstop cheering, singing, flag-waving. Not much buried-in-my-iPhone going on, from what I’ve seen.

      • The soccer supporters have been pushing the sport nearly 40 years – it really hasn’t gained much since then. Compare soccer expansion to other sports, the NFL, NBA, and NHL – all have expanded much more than soccer has during that time. Perhaps there has been an increase of immigrants that support it which would result in a increase in popularity. However, hoops and the NHL both have enjoyed very impressive expansion recently (both sports teams are full of international players also (50% of the NFL players, it appears, are Euros, for example – hockey must be a huge over there, likely due to recent expansion in that area) Also, Rugby is more interesting than soccer, and is technically the fastest growing sport in the U.S currently – it may overtake soccer in popularity in the U.S. fairly soon.

      • @Duffer, you have no clue. You just hate soccer. Rugby taking over soccer in the US in popularity? Soccer not gaining traction in the last 40 years? Are you serious??

        The sport has grown exponentially in the last 40 years. 40 years, ago we didn’t even have a domestic league in this country. The US Men’s National Team went 40 years between qualifying for World Cups during this time (1950-1990). And now look at the TV ratings for EPL and Liga MX in the US – they get a similar amount of viewers as mid-week nationally televised baseball games. Also, look at all the cities and owners that have invested in soccer-specific stadiums. Where was all this movement 40 years ago?

        Actually, soccer is my favorite sport. I like it more than baseball or football. I follow the EPL and the US team religiously. I’m not alone – most of my friends are either fanatics or watch at least casually.

      • Chris: you’re entitled to your opinion – however the facts prove you incorrect. There was a major soccer push in the US in the late 78’s Pele (I believe that was the guy’s name) the equivalent of Beckham today, played for a NY soccer team, and major league U.S. soccer bombed at that time. It still lags a distant 5th – well behind the big 4 sports. The NFL has made huge strides in 40 years and easily passed MLB as the U.S. no. 1 sport since then.. Both hockey and BB have also made huge gains internationally, (50% of NHL players are European, for example), there are also quite a few international NBA players, and some foreign teams give the U.S. BB squad fits in the Olympics, Argentina even beat the US for the gold medal 18 years go

        . Meanwhile soccer really hasn’t improved its standing as a minor sport in the U.S In 40 years – despite all the hype it receives (its’ also oddly marketed as a new, up-and-coming sport – when actually, historically, it is the oldest sport around) It will likely never come close to passing the NFL, BB, or even hockey – ditto for MLB because it is not a good spectator sport. As for a big youth soccer following – that doesn’t necessarily translate to a promising future for soccer, ( Skateboarding is very popular for 10-15 yr old,, and has been for some time, yet there is not a substantial adult skateboarding league that adults follow and attend, for example). Rugby is indeed making big gains, NBC has been televising U.S. Rugby league matches, and Rugby may indeed pass soccer in popularity sooner than thought – the NFL is even getting involved with promoting rugby in the U.S. – it is a much more interesting spectator sport than soccer anyhow..

  5. You guys are all making some great points about the younger generation trending away from baseball…but that definitely SUPPORTS what the owners are doing right now with stadium turnover.
    If you don’t get a publicly-financed baseball stadium pushed through in the next 10 years, good luck ever doing it again. Especially in an urban area where the kids like soccer and hoops. The majority of baseball’s paying customers are an aging demographic. In the not-too-distant future, if a municipality had to choose between supporting: a soccer stadium; an arena that can host concerts or conventions as well as NHL/NBA; or a pro baseball stadium, they are going to build one of former two options.

  6. lot of news coming out today.

    a’s owners supposedly re-looking at howard terminal although i continue to be that it doesn’t make financial sense from the a’s ownership pov when compared to the much cheaper location of the coliseum but they want to risk putting their money into that project fine. visually it’d look great and much better than whatever is build at the coliseum location but the laundry list of issues regarding howard terminal is staggering.

    white sox also have a brand new name for what was used to be called us cellular field. it’s not guaranteed rate field. funny thing is the logo for the company is a arrow pointing down which white sox fans i’ve seen basically say it’s where the franchise is headed.

    • The Coliseum might be a much cheaper location, but the A’s are realizing that the Raiders are never actually going to leave that site. The A’s do not want to have one of two stadiums on that site and they know that MLB will never grant them San Jose. Downtown Oakland is their only play. Realistically its Howard Terminal or Laney College.

      • That would be an explanation why the A’s are looking at the HT site. You’d think that the A’s would prefer building at the Coliseum site, And that the Raiders to Vegas is a done deal, it hasn’t been made official yet because the Raiders or the NFL wouldn’t want to announce it during the NFL season, however that may not be the case if the A’s are exploring the HT site.

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