SBJ/February 16 - 22, 2004/Facilities

SMG vet Rice transplants to K.C., will oversee changes at Kauffman Stadium

Bob Rice, a 16-year veteran in facility management with SMG, begins operating his first stadium this week. The Kansas City Royals hired Rice as vice president of ballpark operations and development in preparation for what team officials hope will be an extensive renovation of Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals lured Rice from Puerto Rico, where he was readying an 18,000-seat arena in San Juan for a May 17 opening. Rice opened the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in 1996 when it was the Ice Palace. He also managed two arenas in England, the old St. Louis Arena and Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek, Mich.

Mark Gorris, the Royals' senior vice president, business operations, said Rice's knowledge of construction management and event operations and booking helped his cause. The Royals are seeking events beyond baseball to generate additional revenue in MLB's smallest market.

A rendering shows an improved ballpark for the Royals, who will need approval of a new tax to make major changes.

"We hope to land a concert or two. The Pirates recently did well with Bruce Springsteen," Gorris said.

Rice will supervise continuing improvements at the 31-year-old ballpark, which is part of the Truman County Sports Complex with Arrowhead Stadium. A $354 million project for both venues depends on the approval of a bi-state tax among three counties in Missouri and two counties in Kansas that officials are working to get on the ballot.

The Royals, consulting with Earl Santee of HOK Sport, the firm in town that designed the sports complex, would receive $177 million from the tax for capital improvements. The team would invest $15 million and extend its lease with the Jackson County Sports Authority for 15 more years through 2029.

The Royals want to expand stadium concourses from an average of 18 feet to 42 feet in width and build up to 52 new suites and 3,000 new club seats. The ballpark would increase in size from 750,000 to 1.15 million square feet.

Gorris said that the 19 current suites are outdated and that 12 rows of club seats need updated amenities.

This season, the stadium will debut a $2 million sound system and a new grass field. The outfield fences were moved back, giving the ballpark the dimensions it opened with in 1973. The sports authority paid for the improvements.

CAMPING FOR CASH: H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and COO of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, said his racetrack has increased annual gross revenue by $500,000 by providing support services for NASCAR fans and others traveling in recreational vehicles.

Year-round camping is common at the speedway's Fleetwood RV Camping Resort. Lowe's charges $20 to $25 a day for the 460 sites equipped for cable, electricity, sewer and water service. Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth also allows off-season camping.

"If we have the camper space, the tracks do well, but most of our tracks don't have the facilities," Wheeler said. "All RVs now are self-contained, and all you need for them is a honey wagon [for transport of human waste] and a water truck. That's ... why we need to continue to expand at all our tracks to meet those needs."

Wheeler's unofficial research discovered three types of non-race-time visitors in Charlotte. "There is the salesperson who literally drives in with a camper hooked up with a four-cylinder car and makes their calls living in their own Motel 6," he said. "Then there is the traveling public coming through on their way to Florida. The third is the most interesting, people coming to Charlotte to see the speedway and visit the race shops."

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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