SBJ/December 1 - 7, 2003/Special Report

Baseball’s newest parks stay on schedule

Major League Baseball's latest facilities, a pair of $450 million stadiums that are replacing 30-plus-year-old venues in Philadelphia and San Diego, are near completion and on schedule for Opening Day.

Citizens Bank Park is 75 percent completed, said John Stranix, project manager representing the Phillies. Work continues on seat installation and detailed finishes throughout the building.

A rendering shows what the Phillies’ new home will look like when it opens in April.

"The field is down, half the seats are in and the exterior facade is up. The workers are saying it's really a ballpark now," Stranix said. For the first time in 34 seasons, the Phillies will play on a natural surface, this one made of Kentucky bluegrass.

Construction crews managed to survive brutal weather in late 2002 and early this year. "Our biggest challenge was last winter. It was wicked for anybody in New England," Stranix said. "The winter before that was mild when we started the project."

To prepare operationally for the April 12 home opener against Cincinnati, officials are planning an event to recognize construction workers in mid- to late March, followed by a pair of exhibition games the first week of April. Public open houses also will be held.

The Phillies sold all 3,700 club seats on a full-season-ticket basis, a modest allotment compared with other modern big-league parks (the Padres have nearly twice that number at Petco Park). The intent was to create demand for those premium seats, said John Weber, director of sales.

Diamond Club seat holders paid $60 to $200 per ticket depending on the amenities provided for 1,200 seats directly behind home plate. The 2,500 Hall of Fame club seats at $42 per game are mid-level by the press box. Club seat holders in both areas have access to private lounges. The Diamond Club offers a higher-end atmosphere with a buffet meal and plasma TVs.

"We think we hit on the right number. We sold them all, understanding the ups and downs associated with a professional sports team. We wanted to make these seats special, so that if we have a bad year, people still retain them because of the exclusivity," Weber said.

The Phillies experienced the same success with their 71 luxury suites. As of late November, only two suites were left for full-season leases, priced at $115,000 and $120,000. "We expect to close those out in the new year," Weber said.

The four highest-priced units at $200,000 per year are located on the infield corners. Most suites accommodate 16 people. Lease terms are four, seven and 10 years. Five suites are game-day rentals.

Petco Park is 90 percent complete, confirmed Erik Judson, Padres vice president of business development. The devastating wildfires in the region did not delay construction, but several workers lost their homes in the disaster. "We have over 500 people on the job every day," Judson said. "No question we had a slow week, but there was no impact on the turnover date."

About a dozen luxury suites remain at Petco Park, shown here in an artist’s rendering.

Richard Andersen, executive vice president and managing director of ballpark operations, added, "Every single person on the job was directly impacted. A certain number of employees were not able to get into the city. For several days, there wasn't a full complement of workers."

The ballpark opens March 11-14 with a college baseball tournament involving San Diego State University, coached by former Padres great Tony Gwynn. Two exhibition games are set for April 3-4 against the Seattle Mariners. Open houses are slated for Padres season-ticket holders.

Landscaping plays a primary role in defining Petco Park thanks to the temperate climate in San Diego. Workers are planting an estimated $2 million worth of vegetation native to Southern California such as bougainvillea vines and 14 jacaranda trees. Palm trees are a top-floor feature.

"That doesn't include the planters and irrigation," Judson said. All told, the cost is in excess of $3 million. The playing field is a Bermuda hybrid grass grown in Palm Springs. The Padres hired Luke Yoder, formerly with PNC Park, as director of grounds and landscaping.

The Padres are 99 percent sold out for the 1,400-seat Premier Club, a $46 club seat. The 181-seat Dugout section sold out months ago, the highest-priced tickets at $275 per game. The Toyota Terrace Club, encompassing Petco Park's entire second level with 4,800 premium seats, is 85 percent sold between the bases.

The team has sold 1,100 of the 3,000 seats on that level beyond the bases, said Steve Violetta, executive vice president of business affairs. The balance of those seats will be used for group and individual sales. The Padres still have about a dozen luxury suites to sell. Prices range from $85,000 to $170,000 with three-, five- and seven-year terms. Membership fees on top of that are $60,000-$90,000.

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