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SBJ/April 26 - May 2, 2004/SBJ In Depth
Philadelphia freedom from ‘The Vet’
Published April 26, 2004
Ashburn Alley gives fans an up-close opportunity to watch pitchers warm up in the bullpen.
The $460 million ballpark is beautiful, but it’s in a bad location, complained a Philadelphia Inquirer scribe. Sports Illustrated said that architect HOK Sport’s retro design look has grown tiresome after a 12-year run dating back to Camden Yards in Baltimore.
But Philadelphia Phillies fans were having too much fun experiencing the modern amenities at the old-but-new venue to pay attention to the critics.
From the enthusiasm on display early in the season, they seemed to love the fact that they were finally freed from 33 years of exile within the unfriendly confines of Veterans Stadium, now resting in pieces across Citizens Bank Way after an implosion in March.
At the new place, the Make Your Own Phanatic stand, operated by the Build-A-Bear Workshop people, had a hard time meeting the demands of customers willing to pay $30 each to create a customized version of the Phillies mascot. The retailer had to send an emergency supply truck from St. Louis on the morning of the second exhibition game.
On Opening Day, a couple of old-timers relived their youth while admiring priceless memorabilia on display at the Cooperstown Gallery in the Hall of Fame Club.
Later in the week, when the sun finally shone during the venue’s first homestand, a connoisseur of fine brews stopped Aramark Regional Vice President Jack O’Brien, pointed to his glass of amber ale, and remarked that he couldn’t have imagined quaffing a dark beer at a Phillies game.
“This is the color that beer is supposed to be,” he told O’Brien.
South Philly gets the call
For the Phillies and their faithful, the new 43,500-seat facility is the way baseball is supposed to be in the City of Brotherly Love.
After spending 15 years searching for the right location, the city and the team decided it made the most sense to build the ballpark in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, home of Lincoln Financial Field, Wachovia Center and Wachovia Spectrum.
The Phillies wanted a location large enough to build open-air concourses and spacious entry plazas, operate a year-round restaurant, create an outfield entertainment zone and offer amenities such as the largest scoreboard in the National League.
They also wanted plenty of parking. There are 15,500 spaces, with 5,000 more becoming available in September when the site of Veterans Stadium is cleared and paved.
“We wanted to celebrate the game and identify our city,” said David Montgomery, the team’s general partner and CEO.
A poll showed that Phillies fans agreed by a wide margin that south Philly was the ideal site.
“The Phillies wouldn’t have had a ballpark like this if it were built downtown,” said Joe Spear, an architect with HOK Sport in Kansas City. Spear worked with local architecture firm EwingCole to design Citizens Bank Park, his 11th Major League Baseball project.
The handful of downtown sites had challenging issues, such as the need to relocate the region’s largest electrical substation and to negotiate with railroad companies over corridors and rights of way.
“As different sites were suggested, we had to adjust the vision for the site,” said Montgomery. “The nice thing about this one is we’re sitting on 21.6 acres. We didn’t have to compromise too much on space.”
The south Philly site wasn’t without its own challenges.
The Phillies had to tear down a food distribution warehouse, relocate $15 million in utilities and comply with federal regulations for cleaning up an area where ash had been dumped in the early part of the 20th century.
“We had to take tremendous precautions to set up everything on piles,” said John Stranix, the project manager. “It was a fairly intensive effort.”
Pradeep Patel, project director and senior vice president of EwingCole, said his firm’s vision was to design the layout of Citizens Bank Park in similar fashion to Philadelphia’s City Hall, which is situated in the midst of Logan, Rittenhouse, Franklin and Washington squares.
“William Penn’s city plan was our metaphor for the four entry points,” Spear said. “City Hall is surrounded by four city parks, which was part of the idea.”
Montgomery said Citizens Bank park is seven acres larger than SBC Park in San Francisco, the stadium many baseball enthusiasts regard as MLB’s crown jewel.
“That’s a beautiful ballpark, but they were limited in what they could do,” he said. “I would love to have San Francisco Bay. But when we talk about circulation, they have some points where crowd movement gets tight.”
Ideas from other ballparks
The team’s journey to build a new facility started in the early 1990s, after the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, a stadium widely considered to be the benchmark for new ballparks.
“We were at the time trying to improve our situation by taking over management of Veterans Stadium,” Montgomery said. The Phillies shared the building with the NFL Eagles.
“Once we saw a park like Camden Yards, we said to ourselves that [managing Veterans Stadium] should not be the endgame,” Montgomery said. “The endgame for us should be to see if we can’t get into a baseball-only facility that is one that we participate in the design and have the operational responsibility for.”
In addition to Camden Yards, the Phillies incorporated design elements and made improvements to architectural features they observed at Coors Field in Denver, Comerica Park in Detroit, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati and Turner Field in Atlanta.
“We loved the open concourses at Coors Field, and we wanted very much to take that to the fullest,” Montgomery said, acknowledging that the Phillies also borrowed the concept from their new minor league facilities in Lakewood, N.J., and Clearwater, Fla.
The main concourse is a minimum of 48 feet wide and expands to as wide as 60 feet, Stranix said. The upper concourse is 44 feet at its narrowest point.
“The ability to stroll around the ballpark and do things other than just sit in your seat and still stay attached to the game was a key design element,” Montgomery said. “That’s a difference from Veterans Stadium; it’s a difference from some of the new parks.”
Stranix said, “The one thing the Phillies really liked was the openness of the concourses they saw in Detroit and Denver and Pittsburgh. What we also saw was that no one else seems to have a fully open concourse. Every one of our concourses, main, upper and club, have a break in them.”
He said, “As good as Camden Yards is, when you leave the bowl to get a beer or a hot dog, you could be in a subway for all you know. The only clue you’re at a baseball game are the televisions. Here, when you leave the bowl, you are always inside of the field. That’s a great feature and the fact that we did that in the upper deck is pretty neat.”
Of Citizens Bank Park’s 43,500 available seats, 21,000 are at street level or below.
“That was something we felt strongly about,” said Montgomery. “We didn’t want fans to have to ramp up to go back down. The beauty of this park is that 21,000 of the 43,500 seats are at street level or below.”
Officials had to install an intricate system that constantly pumps water out of the facility because the playing field is about 13 feet below the existing water table.
“We had to excavate 23 feet for the entire footprint of the facility to put the building below grade,” Stranix said. “The amount of soil we excavated is roughly the same amount that we need to fill the Vet hole up. We’re storing that soil off site temporarily and bringing it back to fill the hole.”
Take your seat
Stranix credited Montgomery with developing a method to make it as painless as possible for fans to reach their seats in the upper deck.
Montgomery suggested building an entrance at the midpoint of the upper bowl. “For years at the Vet, you had to walk up about two stories to the podium to walk back down again to your seats,” said Stranix. “That’s disorienting and uncomfortable for many people.” If you notice in the upper deck, you walk down four or five rows to seats or walk back 10 rows. But you’re never walking 40 rows.”
The Phillies purposely kept their premium seating at relatively modest numbers and sold all 70 suites and 3,700 club seats before the 2004 season started. The last suite agreement was signed six weeks ago.
Montgomery said, “The mistake we heard from others is that they overdesigned their premium area for their market and maybe overpriced it.”
The Phillies did not require contracts for club seats with the exception of two- and five-year terms for the 112 high-end Dugout Diamond seats, described by Montgomery as baseball’s equivalent to NBA courtside seating.
John Weber, the team’s director of sales, said, “We did not want to get into that environment, partly because we think we’ve designed it properly and that we’ll always have demand in these areas, so why try to tie somebody into something that they’re not interested in holding onto and utilizing?”
Citizens Bank Park has 1,200 club seats in 18 rows behind home plate, ranging from $60 to $200 a game depending on the amenities package. Those ticket holders have access to the 16,650-square-foot indoor Diamond Club, roughly 15 to 20 feet behind the last row of those club seats.
“The concept of having club seating right behind home plate is a rather recent phenomenon, the last half-dozen years or so,” said Montgomery. “We were lucky that we knew we wanted it early enough to design that mezzanine level so that your amenity area is very close to your seating.”
The Diamond Club restaurant has room for 800 people.
“Pittsburgh and Cincinnati did a high-end club for 300 to 400 seats,” Weber said. “Those are great areas, but if you go back to them in the fourth inning, if there’s 10 people in the place, it looks completely empty. We want a lot of people circulating around. That’s why we made it a little bit larger, but we think it’s the right size for pregame buffets or if we have a [bad] weather situation.”
The $90 club seats include a $30 food credit built into the bar-coded ticket, which offers those patrons convenience and flexibility, said Montgomery. The credits may be used in the Diamond Club and regular concession stands, and can be used to buy merchandise.
“Hopefully, it gives you the freedom to choose the type of food you want to enjoy,” said Montgomery.
The Phillies also went one step further with their out-of-town scoreboard, satisfying the interests of hard-core fans keeping track of every pitch.
“In Pittsburgh, their scoreboard lists the number of outs and where the base runners are,” said Montgomery. “But to do that, they gave up listing the pitchers. So we said, ‘Let’s see if we can have our cake and eat it, too.’ Our board indicates who the pitchers are and at the same time indicates where the base runners are, number of outs, etc.”
Honoring the past
Citizens Bank Park tastefully honors the 122-year history of professional baseball in Philadelphia, almost half of which revolves around the playing and managing careers of Connie Mack, formally known as Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy.
“Our fans basically said, ‘Don’t overdo that. … Don’t make it gimmicky. Give us a chance to see the history,’” said Montgomery. “That’s what we tried to do.”
Mack helped design Shibe Park, which served as the home of the A’s from 1909 to 1954 and in 1953 was renamed Connie Mack, in honor of the man who managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years. The Phillies played there from 1938 to 1970 before moving to the Vet.
The steel trusses and light towers at Citizens Bank Park, the angular geometry of the seating bowl, the stand-alone outfield clock and the 199 rooftop seats on the second level of Harry the K’s Broadcast Bar & Grille in Ashburn Alley are design features rekindling memories of Shibe Park.
Philadelphia sports memorabilia buffs will enjoy the midlevel Hall of Fame Club, the other premium area reserved for 2,600 ticket holders who purchased club seats down the first- and third-base lines.
Cooperstown Gallery showcases Philadelphia players inducted into the Hall of Fame.
A ceremonial first ball from Shibe Park’s first game, an original photo of the 1911 world champion squad and tickets from the 1930 season are other items on display,.
Ashburn Alley, named after former Phillie and broadcaster Richie Ashburn, is the ballclub’s version of Camden Yards’ Utah Street and further recognizes the city’s role in baseball.
“We wanted to do something big for Richie because he was so beloved,” said Joe Giles, Phillies director of business development and the team official in charge of giving the facility a theme.
A brick wall in center field contains Memory Lane, a graphical timeline detailing the history of the A’s, Phillies and the city’s Negro League teams.
“We learned from other teams that putting all the memorabilia and artifacts in one museum is not the way to go,” said Giles. “That we’re better off creating different exhibits around the park … that people can enjoy.”
Aramark’s concession operation also plays a big role in keeping the city’s heritage and its baseball tradition alive.
Concession stands serve up favorites like Hatfield hot dogs and, of course, cheesesteaks.
The Brewerytown beer stand, with Ballantine, Yuengling and Flying Fish among its local and regional offerings, recognizes the fact that there used to be 128 fully functioning breweries in Philadelphia.
The Phillies think McFadden’s Restaurant & Saloon, a year-round eatery that is a joint venture between a national pub and a local jazz club/high-end restaurant, will maintain business when the Phillies are playing out of town.
“The sports complex had 440 events last year,” said Brian Harrington, co-owner of McFadden’s. “We’ll capitalize on traffic coming from all those other events.”
McFadden’s is a tenant at Citizens Bank Park. There is also a location at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix. The joint venture in Philadelphia won out over proposals that included interest from Friday’s Front Row Grille, which has restaurants at BOB and Miller Park in Milwaukee.
Aramark operates Harry the K’s, the ballpark’s other full-service public restaurant, which is located in Ashburn Alley. The Phillies designed that destination after seeing the Chop House, the outfield restaurant at Turner Field.
“We also learned that if you’re going to have a restaurant, it’s either got to have a great view of the field or it’s got to be in a prime location off the street,” Giles said.
For a list of subcontractors and consultants at Citizens Bank Park, click here