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Indians detail multimillion-dollar renovation plans

Posted August 12, 2014

By Michelle Jarboe McFee, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

 

CLEVELAND, Ohio - TheCleveland Indians will trade roughly 7,000 little-used seats and some empty suites for new gathering areas at Progressive Field, as part of a multimillion-dollar renovation scheduled to start this year.

During a meeting early Thursday morning at the downtown ballpark, Indians President Mark Shapiro said the team is responding to years of fan feedback and broader changes in professional sports. The Indians hope to boost sagging attendance at games by tailoring sections of the park to families and young professionals, creating more standing-room areas and social spaces, and trying to better link the field to the city.

The renovations, which will stretch from center field to right field, could be finished by opening day of 2015.

"We're really adapting the building to the current sports landscape and the size of the market," Shapiro said.

The plans include:

  • Capping off a section of the upper deck, which sits empty on all but the busiest days, with a platform that will conceal unused seats and create new game-viewing areas.
  • Remaking the Gate C entrance off East Ninth Street by pulling out concrete and opening up views of the ballpark from the street. The gate makeover will eliminate a pavilion and a bar, but the Indians plan to build a two-story, indoor-outdoor bar in right field. To open up the gate, the Indians will move the Bob Feller and Jim Thome statues to another site in the Gate C area. Shapiro said the team also plans to add a statue of Larry Doby, who was the first black player in the American League.
  • Moving the bullpens up into the seating area in center field to give fans a better view of the players during warm-ups. This shift will create a section of exclusive seats in front of the new bullpens and will open up the existing bullpen space to fans who want to stand closer to the field.
  • Expanding the Kids Clubhouse, which opened in 2012, to two levels and renovating the mezzanine. The expansion will eliminate 16 or so suites, continuing the team's ongoing efforts to replace higher-priced, poorly used private areas with spaces that all ticketholders can access. After the renovations, the ballpark still will have upwards of 80 suites - far more than the Indians can fill, and more than many other parks offer.
  • Incorporating five neighborhood-themed areas with food from Ohio City, Tremont and other popular areas of the city.

Shapiro wouldn't put a figure on the costs of the project, which is the first - and largest - of several years worth of renovations the team is considering.

The Indians are paying for the improvements with help from Delaware North Cos., which handles concessions at the facility. None of the work will involve taxpayer funds dedicated to infrastructure improvements - such as heating, concrete and sewage pumps - at the building, which the Indians lease from a nonprofit group governed by a publicly appointed board of directors.

The team is scheduled to make a presentation Wednesday to the board of the Gateway Economic Development Corp., its landlord, which needs to approve any facility alterations. The Indians also expect to appear before a city design review committee and the Cleveland City Planning Commission next week.

"The 'sin tax' was passed in the spirit of having a public-private partnership," Shapiro said, referring to a tax extension on cigarettes and alcohol that Cuyahoga County voters approved earlier this year, to cover costs associated with Cleveland's three professional sports venues. "That takes care of the infrastructure. ... This is the private part of that partnership."

By spring 2015, Progressive Field will go from 42,404 seats to an estimated 35,400, based on rough numbers from the Indians. The park's capacity, which includes planned standing-room only areas, will land somewhere between 37,000 and 38,000 people, said Andrew Miller, senior vice president of strategy and business analytics for the team.

The team is attracting an average of 18,659 fans per game this season, the second-smallest crowd in Major League Baseball.

Across the industry, capacity is down approximately 15 percent over the last 20 years, according to figures compiled by the Indians. Newer sports venues tend to be smaller, and other ballparks are emphasizing social spaces, better technology and higher-end food and beer to appeal to pickier patrons.

"The number one focus is always going to be the team and the field," Shapiro said, acknowledging that a winning team is the surest way to fill seats. "We feel like we're moving in the right direction there."

But, he added, "We're not going to ignore the other aspects, also. We think this is a very important evolution of this ballpark, which is 20 years old."