SBJ/April 9-15, 2012/Facilities

With flying colors

Marlins find home in ballpark that mirrors Miami’s sizzle

Baseball traditionalists would cry foul over Marlins Park’s color scheme.

The lime-green of the outfield walls extends to the cushy pads protecting the twin 450-gallon fish tanks behind home plate. The floors, walls and concession signs along the first-base line of both public concourses are an eye-opening canary yellow.

A sleek design of curved glass and metallic finishes greets fans as they arrive at Marlins Park.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Then there is the goofy, 73-foot-high, beyond-colorful kaleidoscopic home run feature in center field, with its rotating marlins and flapping flamingos. One might have thought it was hijacked from the carnival midway at the Dade County Youth Fair, an event that was going on at the same time as the park’s two exhibition games in late March.

But the Miami Marlins thumb their nose at the purists. The rebranded team finally has a place to call home after spending 19 seasons as a second-class tenant at an NFL stadium, and their intent was to develop a unique MLB facility to reflect the flair of South Florida as well as team owner Jeffrey Loria’s taste in modern art. The finished product, at a cost of $515 million, may not suit a Cooperstown Collection sensibility for what a ballpark should look like, but it serves as a bold statement for where the Marlins are headed.

Fans and sponsors seem to be excited about the direction. Most of the park’s premium seats are sold, and the Marlins have sold sponsorship to two of the ballpark’s four color-coded quadrants, where Pepsi and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians signed five- to 10-year deals valued at seven figures annually.

“We have never had a seven-figure deal before,” team President David Samson said. “Now, we have many.”

AROUND THE HORN IN MIAMI: A look at the many features of Marlins Park.

For Populous, the ballpark’s architect, the biggest design challenge was using a wide variety of materials and having only seven specifically defined colors to work with: red, blue, yellow and green lining the concourses, and black, white and silver on the two premium levels.

“Just trying to find a consistency so you didn’t have four different colors of yellow, or four different colors of blue or red … that discipline was really good for us, I think, because it allowed us to connect all those things together,” said Earl Santee, a senior principal at Populous.

The connection starts outside the ballpark with a smart, sleek design of curved glass and metallic finishes. The native landscaping around the base of the park consists of royal palms, cypress trees, mangroves and seagrass, representing both Florida’s Everglades and the state’s coastal areas.

The retractable roof is an imposing exterior feature, but it should be a game-changer by keeping fans comfortable throughout the air-conditioned building. Sticky heat and late afternoon rainfall helped keep crowds sparse at the Marlins’ old home, Sun Life Stadium.

The roof serves a dual purpose. In the “park” position, it provides shade cover for the west plaza outside the venue, a space spanning the size of 3 1/2 football fields that can fit up to 20,000 people for a special event. For Marlins games, vendors set up food and merchandise stands on the plaza, and a DJ performs in front of a large video screen that shows the game for those without tickets. Then, at 4 p.m., three hours before a night game, the roof closes in less than 15 minutes to cool the building.

A sheet of glass beyond the left-field wall brings the outside in, without the heat and humidity.
Photo by: MARK FREERKS
“We are still testing to make sure we understand how long it takes to air condition the building to 75 degrees,” Santee said. “Honestly, it may not take very long. It’s a much smaller building than the other domes we’ve seen around the country, in terms of sheer volume.”

To Santee’s point, Marlins Park’s 37,442 seats, putting it among the smallest capacities in baseball, are distributed inside a 928,000-square-foot building. Miller Park in Milwaukee, the last MLB ballpark to open with a retractable roof, seats 41,900 across 1.2 million square feet.

The lounge for the first-base side of the Dugout Club — an area of 296 seats behind first base and third base — spills onto the plaza, creating a year-round meeting space. The lounge is close to the bakery, yogurt shop and mobile phone store built into the park’s west side — which should help keep those retail units active in the offseason.

“Everything we have on the ground on the west side can be used as many days as possible, so just having that club open will make a big difference,” Santee said. “The Marlins can do stand-alone functions with this space separate of everything else they do in the building.”

Inside the park, the sold-out Diamond Club is tied to 379 seats in eight rows behind home plate facing the fish tanks. Those all-inclusive tickets cost $250 to $400 a game depending on location and cover the cost of beer and wine, but no hard liquor, in a high-end dining space operated by Levy Restaurants, the park’s food provider.

The restaurant comes with a view into the Marlins’ batting cages, similar to the premium experience at Nationals Park in Washington. The experience inside the Diamond Club with its subdued blue lighting has a “very Miami feeling,” Samson said.

“One of the things Jeffrey demanded of this stadium was that no matter where you are, people knew this was Marlins Park,” he said.

The stark white floors in the suites and the shimmery ceiling decorations above the hallway bars on the Lexus Legends Level also speak to that Miami vibe. Marlins Park’s 39 suites on two levels, second-fewest in MLB behind Kauffman Stadium, reflect a soft market never keen on that premium product. (AmericanAirlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, has 20 suites).

The two Championship Suites along the first and third-base lines, themed for the Marlins’ two World Series titles, were not marketed in the mold of traditional suites. Instead, the 102 combined seats in both rooms were sold individually as an all-inclusive ticket priced at $250 a game.

The demand was so high for the Championship Suites that the Marlins converted two traditional suites into the same price model, Samson said. Both were originally priced at $250,000 a year.

Regular 16-person suites are priced at $150,000 to $250,000 annually with three-, five- and seven-year terms. On the high end, 11 of the 13 Founders Suites are sold, with two reserved for a naming-rights partner and a quad sponsor, Samson said.

The open-air Budweiser Bowtie Bar in left field, one of about a dozen Bud-branded spaces in MLB this season, is open to all ticket holders and has quickly become a popular hangout. The bar and the seats immediately below with counter space were filled for the Marlins’ first exhibition against the Yankees.

The Bobblehead Museum, the Taste of Miami, a grab-and-go stand with Latin American foods; and the graphics on one support column recognizing the history of the old Orange Bowl Stadium where Marlins Park now stands are more destinations to hit on a walk around the facility.

“We really wanted this building to epitomize what I call the three-inning tour, where every half-inning you stop someplace and enjoy a different viewpoint of the game, but also some different amenity of the building,” Santee said.

On that point, traditionalists would agree.

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