SBJ/March 17-23, 2014/Facilities

Upgrades will bring first-of-its-kind Peoria complex up to speed with newer facilities

Twenty years ago this month, the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners launched the trend of two-team spring training facilities when the Peoria Sports Complex opened in Phoenix’s West Valley.

The concept caught on: There are now five two-team spring training parks in Arizona and another in Florida.

But another concept, the idea that spring training complexes should have some of the fan amenities of MLB ballparks, has taken hold since then, leaving the pioneering Peoria park behind the curve.

Peoria will redevelop space on the third-base line to add amenities now seen at other Cactus League parks.
Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
In 1994, it was less about the spring training games and more about building first-class support facilities to put a winning club on the field, said Dave Bower, a principal at Populous and one of the ballpark’s original designers.

“The teams said, ‘People will come and watch our games,’” Bower said. “It was not the focus of today’s market, with varied seating and different opportunities in the newer parks. We are going to bring this one back around again to respond more to what fans are asking for.”

After signing a 20-year lease extension with the Padres and Mariners in 2012, the city of Peoria invested $31 million to renovate the two team’s clubhouses behind the park. Those projects were completed for this season.

For next year, the city turns its attention to upgrades on the stadium, which has 7,300 fixed seats and a lawn that bumps its capacity to 11,335. It will spend $5.2 million to redevelop space down the third-base line into a 500-seat party deck, and an indoor lounge to match the premium hospitality offered at other Cactus League parks.

Peoria’s current group areas are a hard sell because they are behind the grandstand and do not have views to the field, Bower said.

The existing bleacher seats in that space will be removed to build the new structure, which will also serve as the park’s new front door, said Chris Calcaterra, Peoria’s sports facilities manager.

The ground floor of the retrofit will include a new 2,500-square-foot team store. The smaller, existing team store on the concourse between home plate and third base will be made into a larger ticket office, Calcaterra said.

The park is known for its food court on a plaza behind third base, offering pork tenderloin sandwiches, barbecue and teriyaki chicken. The layout of food trucks and trailers along the front fence line will be redesigned to provide a 360-degree walkway around those structures.

In general, the improvements tie into future development outside a facility that books more than 300 events a year, spread over the stadium, practice fields and parking lot, Calcaterra said.

Peoria Sports Complex is a prime example of how sports facilities can help generate mixed-use projects, Bower said. Twenty years ago, the ballpark opened in an old cotton field. Loop 101, one of Phoenix’s main highways circling the city, was still taking shape.

“I’ve been here 16 years and when I pulled in [Feb. 10, 1998], LaQuinta hotel’s parking lot was getting paved,” Calcaterra said.

Over time, development has exploded around the ballpark, revolving around the hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and movie theaters supporting the youth and amateur baseball tournaments taking place at the stadium in addition to spring training. More projects are in the works, including The Avenue Shoppes at P83, a proposed development next to the park, offering more retail, office and residential space.

After spring training, construction will start on the party deck project. To steer clear of that work, the stadium’s newest sports tenant, USL Pro’s FC Phoenix, will play its home games on a field laid down along first base and into the outfield.

The team signed a one-year lease to play in Peoria tied to a two-year extension. If the two parties agree to exercise the option, the soccer field will be reconfigured down the third base line in 2015 after the stadium renovation is completed, Calcaterra said.

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