SBJ/March 11-17, 2013/Facilities

Astros put new shine on (and more space in) Diamond Club

Don Muret
The Houston Astros are renovating the Diamond Club at Minute Maid Park as part of a comprehensive rebranding of the 13-year-old facility under new team owner Jim Crane.

The Astros are investing $2.5 million to expand and refresh the premium club, which supports 330 seats behind home plate, said George Postolos, the team’s president and CEO.

Those seats, priced at $375 a game as a season ticket, have been sold out since the stadium opened in 2000, Postolos said.

Working with local design firm Kirksey Architecture, the Astros have added 7,000 square feet to the club by consolidating some hidden spaces, including an old smoking lounge and a room devoted to phones and fax machines for use by companies doing business in the club. By knocking walls down and activating dead space, the club can now comfortably accommodate all of the club seat holders. All told, the club now encompasses more than 17,000 square feet, and for special events, it can fit 400 people, Postolos said.
 
Work continues on the Diamond Club in Houston.
Photo: HOUSTON ASTROS
The renovation covers the food operation as well. Aramark, the Astros’ food provider, has replaced the Diamond Club’s old buffet lines with cooking stations with multiple service points.

In addition, the club has a new bar; an open-hearth oven for cooking pizzas, calzones and flatbread sandwiches; and a wine display along one wall. New fixtures and furniture, plus higher ceilings, give the club an upscale but still casual restaurant feel, Postolos said.

The centerpiece is a new video display feature that gives Diamond Club seat holders the feeling of standing behind home plate and watching the game, said Twila Carter, project manager for the Crane Group, the holding company for Jim Crane’s business assets. Three projectors, connected to stationary cameras set up on the field beam live images of the game onto a wall toward the back of the club. The image fills a space 30 feet wide and 6 feet tall, Carter said.

The video feature was a less costly option than “tunneling” through the club to provide an open view to the field from inside the club, which would have been a “larger project than we wanted to take on,” she said.

The Diamond Club renovation will be completed by March 29, the date of the Astros’ first of two final exhibition games against the Chicago Cubs at Minute Maid Park.

> NEW GROUP: Aramark is doing its part to upgrade the premium food experience at Minute Maid Park, forming a partnership with the Astros involving two local food operators.

Houston Astros Hospitality Group, the name of the new company running the food at the ballpark’s suites and clubs, reflects a group effort with Aramark, local caterer Jackson and Co. and Houston chef Bryan Caswell, who runs Reef, a high-end seafood restaurant in town.

Together, they have partnered to improve higher-end food service and bring new food themes to the club level, including Big Daddy Caz, a new burger grill concept named for Caswell with homemade milkshakes and his “four-minute” French fries, voted among the best in Houston.

A new bloody mary and margarita bar and a customized sushi stand where patrons select their own ingredients “Chipotle-style” are also part of the premium food revamp on the club level, said Carl Mittleman, an Aramark regional vice president.

The Houston Astros Hospitality Group follows similar partnerships Aramark has with the Cleveland Browns and New York Mets. In Cleveland, Aramark’s new venture with three local chefs generated 20 percent growth in revenue over the 2011 season.
“Aramark shared with us those numbers,” Postolos said. “It’s all in the execution, but they had a good outcome in Cleveland.”
Those initiatives are also geared to expanding non-game-day business with corporate functions, Mittleman said.

> ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY: The Colorado Rockies, in conjunction with Blue Moon Brewing Co., are developing a new microbrew tied to the MLB team’s 20th anniversary.

The details of the promotion are still being worked out, but fans will be engaged in the process for developing a special brew to be served at Coors Field this season, said Greg Feasel, the Rockies’ executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Blue Moon, a brand owned by MillerCoors, the company holding the stadium’s naming rights, was born at Coors Field in 1995 at a brewery in the right-field corner. The ballpark is still the only MLB facility with a working brewpub on site, an element folded into the park’s original design.

In a region where people take their craft beers seriously, the Rockies think it’s a novel way to recognize the team’s two decades in Denver, Feasel said.

> CITY-WIDE: Orlando City, a member of the United Soccer Leagues targeting a move up to MLS, recently hired Woods Bagot to design a new stadium in downtown Orlando.

Orlando City now plays at the Florida Citrus Bowl but plans a new home.
Photo: ORLANDO CITY
In turn, Woods Bagot, whose sports practice is run by veteran architect Dan Meis, has hired Jan Szupinski from NBBJ.

Before NBBJ, Szupinski was employed by Rossetti, where he designed new MLS stadiums for the Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls.

In Orlando, the club is developing a 19,000-seat stadium with a budget of $95 million excluding land costs, said Phil Rawlins, the team’s president and part owner.

Financing has not been approved. The team has committed to paying $30 million for the project plus any cost overruns. The balance would be funded by the city, county and state, Rawlins said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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