SBJ/October 27 - November 2, 2003/Facilities

Less is more: Sox scrap 6,600 seats

The Chicago White Sox will address what focus groups made the "No. 1 fan suggestion for improvement" by removing the canopy roof and top eight rows of the upper deck at U.S. Cellular Field, said Dan Polvere, director of development and facilities for the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.

Renovations to U.S. Cellular Field will eliminate canopy roof, eight rows in upper deck.
The six to eight weeks of construction started last Wednesday. The demolition itself will cost $1.8 million. The White Sox will announce later the cost of other renovations, which may include elevated structures in left and right field, joining the center-field fan deck that opened last season.

HKS spokesman Chris Lamberth said, "There could also be a home run porch directly above the primary seating bowl like old Comiskey Park and old Tiger Stadium in Detroit and a 'fundamentals deck' for kids with mini-batting cages, pitching and hitting clinics and a mini-Wiffle Ball field."

Polvere said the team would pay the bills through money gained from last spring's $68 million naming-rights deal with U.S. Cellular. The White Sox have spent $30 million in upgrades in the last three years.

Patrons sitting in the upper deck and in the lower bowl have long complained that the upper deck is among their chief concerns. "People down below didn't like the way it looked, and people in the upper deck said it was a little bit farther from the action," Polvere said.

Much of the upper deck is uninhabited during the regular season with the exception of half-price promotions and the annual interleague series with the Chicago Cubs. The average crowd in the 2003 season was 23,945, or 50.8 percent of capacity.

Eliminating the top eight rows represents 6,600 seats, or one-third of the upper deck, Polvere said. The profile of the ballpark drops from 148 feet to about 130 feet.

"We're losing 6,600 seats in the upper deck, but in the past three years, we've added 2,000 seats in the lower deck, down the foul lines and in the outfield," Polvere said. "We filled in the old bullpens, which helped sightlines."

The new project will leave U.S. Cellular Field's total seating at about 42,000.

The demolition is the fourth phase of a five-year program, said Dale Koger, president of Turner Sports Group. Turner Construction is doing the work. HKS of Dallas has been the architect throughout the process. HOK Sport of Kansas City originally designed the stadium, which opened in 1991, a year before the retro trend began with Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Polvere said that off-season events at the Levy Restaurants-operated Stadium Club, just below the upper deck toward right field, won't be affected by construction. "The only thing we're changing is the access points," he said. "We're actually using the Stadium Club entrance to get guests and employees in and out of the building. We're starting work behind home plate and going down the lines."

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