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Volume 20 No. 41


The Chicago Cubs’ vision was to create “Wrigley Field West” at their new Arizona spring training facility. With Cubs Park, they got it done for $84 million.

The investment covers the 65,000-square-foot Under Armour Performance Center next door to the ballpark, containing the Cubs’ weight training and conditioning center, connected to six outdoor practice fields and 12 batting tunnels. The new complex consolidates all of the Cubs’ spring major league and minor league facilities, once split between HoHoKam Park and Fitch Park down the street.

Cubs Park is already rewriting single-game attendance records for the Cactus League.
The city of Mesa, which paid for the project after the Cubs signed a 30-year lease, got its money’s worth to keep one of baseball’s top draws in town for spring training, said Dave Bower, a principal at Populous and project director for Cubs Park. On opening day, Feb. 27, the announced crowd of 14,486 set a Cactus League attendance record, and the Cubs have pushed the mark up several times since then toward the ballpark’s capacity of 15,000.

“You can spend a lot more money on these things certainly, and there are examples of where they have before,” Bower said. For example, 3-year-old Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, cost $200 million.

“To bring a project of that size and magnitude on budget, we felt it was very successful,” Bower said. “Could we have done more with more money? Absolutely, but that’s not the most important thing.”

At Cubs Park, that money went toward paying homage to the team’s beloved 100-year-old ballpark, while going light on the kitsch.

Report from Arizona

Facilities reporter Don Muret packed his sunscreen and his camera and headed  west to Arizona, where he paid visits to four MLB spring training ballparks in the Phoenix area: Cubs Park, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Camelback Ranch and the Peoria Sports Complex.

One of the best examples of the Wrigley influence is the view from behind third base looking toward the batter’s box. Hanson Brick of Charlotte, the manufacturer for Wrigley’s brick wall behind home plate, duplicated its color and pattern at Cubs Park.

For die-hard Cubs fans intimately familiar with the Friendly Confines, the view stirs an odd feeling that they have seen this before. Are we at Wrigley or Mesa?

The Wrigley-like finishes extend from the curves in the steel light structures to the cantilevered roof, from the scoreboard clock to the steep angle of the grass berm in center field intended to mimic the steepness of Wrigley’s bleacher structure.

Depending on whom you talk to, the Eighteen76 deck, a general-admission space above left field branded for Budweiser, tips its hat to Wrigley’s bleachers or to the controversial rooftops facing the historic Chicago ballpark. In Mesa, those tickets cost $8 to $12 a game depending on opponent.

In addition, the red marquee sitting on the Cubs Park concourse is a smaller replica of Wrigley Field’s most recognizable landmark. Situated along the first-base line, fans can have their customized messages displayed for free on the marquee’s LED board.

The kids’ whiffle ball field beyond center field has its outfield wall emblazoned with graphics depicting Wrigley’s ivy, another of the original ballpark’s unmistakable icons. The Cubs even sent their branded trolley car to Mesa. It’s typically seen outside the Chicago park.

Populous designed HoHoKam Park, the Cubs’ old spring training facility, around the same Wrigley Field theme, and carried it over to Cubs Park. “What you do is drill down, what they wanted here that reminds them of Wrigley,” Bower said. “Ideally, you take that [center-field] shot over the right shoulder of the pitcher — you know it’s Wrigley.”

The Chicago flavor extends to

concessions, too. Eighty to 90 percent of the selections are Chicago-themed, including Vienna Beef hot dogs and Old Style beer, said Ken Young, president of Ovations Food Services, the park’s food and retail provider.

Giordano’s, the Chicago restaurant that recently became the Cubs’ official pizza at Wrigley Field and Cubs Park, has a food truck stationed outside the ballpark.

From top: The brick behind home plate came from Wrigley’s supplier; the Chicago vibe extends to food; the Cubs trolley makes a stop near the ivy-like graphics on the wall of the whiffle ball field.
On opening day, the company distributed free slices of cheese pizza to fans entering the stadium.

The food truck was a way to kick off the partnership after the deal was signed too late for Giordano’s to be served inside Cubs Park this year, said Justin Piper, the Cubs’ general manager of spring training business operations.

Even with the Wrigley touches, Cubs Park maintains a distinct Arizona feel. It can be seen through its red clay-colored exterior walls, the citrus grove that’s a highlight of the picnic area behind the lawn seats, and design “points” jutting from the roofline above the main grandstand.

The roof points are an architectural element Populous brought over from HoHoKam, Bower said. It is also a signature feature at other Cactus League facilities such as Camelback Ranch in Glendale.

The roof cover itself lends a functional piece to Cubs Park. It provides shade to about 70 percent of the park’s 9,200 fixed seats, a critical feature in the Arizona sun. “They looked at other spring training facilities that don’t have that and this was a big hit for them,” Bower said.

One Arizona food brand has a large presence at Cubs Park. Dos Gringos, a Mexican restaurant operating four Phoenix locations, has its name attached to a large covered bar in right field featuring multiple flavors of frozen margaritas.

“It’s not just replicating Wrigley,” Piper said. “You’re getting a unique Cactus League experience, which is what we wanted, a blend of both elements.”

Dos Gringos was packed on opening day, and Ovations expects it to remain a popular destination for the rest of spring training.

The same should hold true for the Eighteen76 deck. The deck’s sight lines overlooking the field are among the park’s best. The setup is similar to the Green Monster seating deck at JetBlue Park, the Boston Red Sox’s spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla.

Cubs Park has six suites, but none are sold externally. The city of Mesa, which publicly funded the project, has control over two suites and the Cubs reserve the other four for their corporate partners, Piper said.

“Our focus was more on the party decks on the first- and third-base side,” he said. “In the spring in Arizona, people want to be outside.”

The Cubs display fans’ messages on a smaller replica of Wrigley Field’s famous marquee.
Both party decks have roof cover. Combined, they hold about 800 people, and can be split up into smaller spaces depending on demand.

The Cubs market the two decks as an all-inclusive ticket for groups of 20 or more. Tickets cost $40 to $44 a person depending on the day of the week. Both decks are sold out for the season, Piper said. They have a combination of bleacher seating and portable chairs.

“One emphasis the Cubs placed on this park is how to get groups of 100 to 150 people into the ballpark and experience it in different ways,” Bower said. “These big patio areas can fit any denomination. It provides flexibility and you can get more capacity up there.”

The 4,000-square-foot Cubs Team Shop in the right-field corner is one of the biggest retail stores in the Cactus League. A smaller team store is in the left-field corner.

The open concourses keep fans connected to the game. Those pathways run 36 feet to 50 feet wide, which on opening day were spacious enough to avoid crowding in a full ballpark, Piper said.

In that sense, there’s no duplicating Wrigley’s cramped concourse below the stands. In Chicago, improving those pathways is among the issues the Cubs are addressing for the proposed $300 million ballpark renovation.

The most expensive spring training facility in baseball is also one of the most fan-friendly venues in the Cactus League.

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the $200 million spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, opened in February 2011, and the ballpark’s first three years have drawn more than 1 million people and produced the top three seasons in attendance in the nearly 70-year history of the Cactus League, said Dave Dunne, the stadium’s general manager.

“It’s been very well-received by baseball fans,” he said.

Salt River Fields offers several ways to view the game — and the mountains.
In addition, the stadium complex has drawn about 400,000 for other ticketed events over the past three years. Last August, country superstar Tim McGraw drew 14,828 for a ballpark concert, the park’s highest attendance for a single event.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community paid for stadium construction and owns the stadium. The Native American group branded it under the same Talking Stick name tied to its casino resort down the street, on the other side of Loop 101 highway.

Salt River Fields, designed by HKS and built by Mortenson, can hold 11,000 for baseball, not the highest capacity in the Cactus League, but its level of finishes and fan amenities put the stadium a step above most spring training facilities.

The ballpark’s 500-person Pepsi Patio in the upper level behind home plate is one of spring training’s largest hospitality spaces. There are 100 high-back chair seats along the patio’s front edge for those who prefer to watch the game.

Otherwise, those standing back from the patio seats can’t see the action on the field, but that’s OK because it was designed to be more of a socializing space. “The game sometimes is secondary to the event,” Dunne said.

Individual ticket prices are $20 for the Pepsi Patio. Food and drink served by Ovations Food Services costs $22 to $26 a person depending on the catering package.

The Coors Light Cold Zone offers fans some shade along one of the baselines.
MillerCoors, which holds naming rights to the Rockies’ ballpark in Denver, has its brands attached to the Miller Lite Taste Zone and Coors Light Cold Zone, two party decks along the baselines, situated one level below the Pepsi Patio.

Both decks are tied to 140 padded box seats for group sales. Individual ticket prices are $20 excluding food and drink costs, the same as the patio. Those decks were busier than the patio on March 2, the date of the Rockies’ first home game against Milwaukee.

Downstairs on the main concourse, the high level of finishes extends to concession stands such as Sonoran BBQ and the Budweiser Bowtie Bar and Salty Señorita, two sit-down destinations anchoring the left-field and right-field corners, respectively.

The mountain views are spectacular, especially from the elevated premium areas. Down the third base line, fans can see the McDowell Mountains and Pinnacle Peak. From right-center field, it’s Red Mountain. Saddleback and Four Peaks are visible from behind the batter’s eye.

Those views separate Salt River from most other spring training parks in Greater Phoenix, according to Dunne. “Even when you walk in, the mountains hit you,” he said. “It is so open, there is not a bad seat in the place.”

The 145-acre property was developed to create a level of separation between the two National League West Division rivals and that includes the ballpark layout in addition to their player development facilities.

The team store in left field, where the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse and team offices stand, is heavy on their merchandise. The same is true for the Rockies in the right-field corner. A third, larger team store in center field sells everything for both franchises, Dunne said.

As fans approach the stadium gates, they walk by the players’ practice facilities. The batting tunnels, built below street level, allow fans to stand along a rail above to see the players hit and maybe get an autograph.

One hour before first pitch until the start of the seventh inning, ballpark staff members throw batting practice to young children at the Cold Stone Kids Fun Field, sponsored by Cold Stone Creamery.

It’s part of the teams’ vision for greater fan engagement in spring training. Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall and the late Keli McGregor, who served as Rockies president until his death in 2010, designed Salt River specifically for fan interaction, Dunne said.

“Fan inclusion was basically No. 1 and taking care of the players and the team and the staff was No. 2,” he said. “They did a great job being able to get the fans involved here.”

The first Monday in March brought sunny skies back to Phoenix after heavy weekend rains canceled three spring training games and cut short three others. It was a beautiful day for baseball, but early in the Cactus League season, some ballparks struggle to draw fans.

Camelback Ranch, shared by the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, is one example. After the Dodgers played a Sunday game before a crowd of 8,585, the Sox drew a paltry 2,662 against the Kansas City Royals. The number of fans in the park, which can hold 13,500, appeared to be much lower.

Camelback’s desert-inspired theme of embedded stone and rusty metal finishes extends to the ticket windows.
But it’s tough to complain about much of anything on a gorgeous afternoon while taking in the sights of Camelback Ranch, the $121 million Glendale ballpark that opened in 2009.

The stadium, designed by HKS and built by Mortenson, gives off a high-end spa/resort vibe. The ballpark’s architecture is heavy on embedded stone and rusty metal finishes. The swooping roofline above the grandstand is a signature design element.

Large cactus plants decorating concession carts inside the park reinforce the desert theme. There’s a mix of Chicago and Los Angeles on the concessions side. Delaware North Sportservice, Camelback’s food provider, serves both Dodger Dogs and the Ditka monster Polish sausage.

The picnic pavilion behind center field has permanent food stands and shaded tables for fans to enjoy a sit-down meal. In that area, they can stop in at one of the stadium’s two team stores to shop for Paul Konerko shirts, celebrating the player who’s entering his 16th season wearing a White Sox uniform.

Against that backdrop, Jeff Overton, Camelback Ranch’s president and general manager, said the key to making it all work is flexibility.

“Our two teams have very different fan desires and personalities that can change game to game,” said Overton, who works for a joint venture tied to the Dodgers and White Sox. “It definitely has an effect, so how we use different pieces of the building changes from day to day.”

The newly branded Eighteen76 Legends Deck in left field reflects market demand. On weekends, group tickets for the 95-seat deck cost $59 a person, an amount that covers the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages. For weekday games, it’s a straight $34 ticket without food and drink. The joint venture sold the deal to Budweiser on behalf of the two teams, and officials hope the new identity will help the party deck attract more group buyers. As of now, it’s been mostly single-ticket sales in that space, Overton said.

For this particular game, though, the party deck was empty, and the all-you-can-eat patio in left field was closed, reinforcing Overton’s assessment of Camelback as a Friday-to-Sunday draw in addition to the second half of spring training, when spring break kicks into high gear.

To make those early weekend games a greater attraction, ballpark management brings in former stars from the home team to sign autographs in a common area next to the practice fields before games. The alumni then visit the party deck and the 12 suites.

Ex-Dodgers Manny Mota and Tim Leary and former White Sox players Ron Kittle and Jerry Hairston have all participated in those sessions.

“It’s part of the connecting of people very closely to the product that they might not be able to get at the major league ballpark,” Overton said.

Access to players in general is a big plus at Camelback Ranch, which is connected to public pathways behind the park circling the practice fields.

Earlier in the day, several Dodgers fans hung out for autographs. Shortly before the team bus left, ESPN analyst Nomar Garciaparra, who played three years for the Dodgers, stopped on one trail to sign bats, balls and mitts.

“Spring training is for the fans, too,” Overton said. “It’s how they re-engage and get ready for the season in their own right.”

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.
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.

Don Muret
The San Diego Padres are revamping the food operation at Petco Park, starting with renovations at three primary destinations.

The Padres, in conjunction with Delaware North Sportservice, their concessionaire, and some new local restaurant partners, are investing $9 million over two years in food upgrades, said Scott Marshall, the team’s vice president of concessions and retail.
The first phase of the project, coming for this season, focuses on refreshing spaces inside a four-story tower along the first-base line, the “Park in the Park” behind center field, and the Western Metal Building in left field.

On the tower’s ground floor, Sportservice is converting an old burger grill stand into the Seaside Market after signing a deal with local grocer Pete Najjar, who runs a fresh food market in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, about 25 miles north of San Diego. The food items available at Petco Park’s market will include cold salads, flatbreads, organic sodas and waters, fruits and vegetables, and craft beers, plus sandwich and juice bars and hot entrees, Marshall said.
As part of the experience, the ballpark market will provide small shopping carts for fans to transport their meals to the Park in the Park, the stadium’s general-admission lawn space tied to a $10 ticket. It’s about 500 yards from the tower building, Marshall said.

A rendering shows Ballast Point’s The Draft tap room, to debut at Petco Park this season.
Two craft breweries are moving into the tower as well: Ballast Point’s The Draft tap room on the second floor, and Stone Brewery’s Stone Garden, a rooftop beer garden.

Hodad’s, a popular burger restaurant in San Diego that has been at the park for two years, is opening a second location on the tower’s third floor, sandwiched between the two bars.

At Park in the Park, a big part of the food changes are tied to Bumble Bee Foods, a West Coast tuna supplier. The company is moving its headquarters this month to a 60,000-square-foot building at the northeast corner of Park in the Park.

A new Bumble Bee portable cart will sell tuna melts and seafood salads. As part of its move to the stadium, Bumble Bee Foods has naming rights for the whiffle ball field at Park in the Park.

At the Western Metal Building, another historic structure incorporated into the park, Rimel’s rotisserie chicken takes over an old group space on top of the building. The 6,000-square-foot eatery has an outdoor kitchen and can accommodate 400 to 500 diners, Marshall said.

Marshall, who joined the Padres last season after 25 years at Centerplate, and Josh Pell, Sportservice’s general manager at Petco Park and another former Centerplate employee, are working closely together to re-energize the ballpark’s food service.

At Centerplate, both helped develop The ’Pen, the successful outfield food market concept at Safeco Field in Seattle, where the Mariners play. Now, they’ve turned their attention to Petco Park, which turns 10 years old this season.

Seattle firm M3, which was involved in The ’Pen project, worked on the design and construction of the food-related retrofits with Gensler and Shawmut.

The improvements in food service are among several renovations in the works under Mike Dee, who returned to the Padres as president last summer after overseeing the ballpark’s original development during his first stint in San Diego.

> WARPED HARVEST: Chris Calcaterra, manager of the Peoria (Ariz.) Sports Complex, spring training home of the Padres and the Mariners, had a funny story to tell during Breaking Ground’s recent visit to his facility.
In the early 2000s, the venue played host to the Vans Warped Tour, an action sports and music festival held in the summer months. About three weeks after the event concluded, a member of the stadium’s operations staff approached Calcaterra holding some small plants in his hand.

“I think these are what I think they are,” the staff member told Calcaterra.

“I think they are too!” was Calcaterra’s response.

Yes, marijuana was growing in the ballpark’s outfield.

“We go out there, and in the [festival’s] moshpit, all these seeds had fallen,” Calcaterra said.

Some seeds had obviously taken root, and the grounds crew quickly mowed over the area to eliminate further growth, he said.

For the past several years, the Warped Tour has played a rural area in Phoenix that tour officials felt was more conducive to festival-style events, Calcaterra said.

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

Reliant Stadium could have a new name by the time Super Bowl LI arrives in Houston in 2017.

NRG Energy, which bought Reliant Energy in 2009, merged with GenOn Energy in 2012 and was integral to the local push to bring the Super Bowl back to Houston, now wants to change the signage on the Houston Texans’ stadium, the company confirmed last week.

NRG Energy, which bought Reliant Energy in 2009, wants the NRG brand on the Houston Texans’ home.
NRG, which has dual headquarters in Houston and New Jersey, is requesting authorization from the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. to change the name of Reliant Park (which includes the stadium property) to NRG Park and Reliant Stadium to NRG Stadium.

The name change is on the agenda of the next meeting of the HCSCC, the county agency that runs the county-owned park along with the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

“We are hopeful that the HCSCC votes to approve the change during its board meeting on March 19, and we look forward to continuing our support of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Houston Texans and all of the park’s events and activities,” NRG and Reliant said in a statement.

Reliant announced the naming rights to the stadium and other properties at Reliant Park in 2000 for $310 million. At the time, it was the most lucrative sports naming-rights deal in history.

The pact now ranks among stadium naming-rights deals behind agreements subsequently signed for Citi Field, MetLife Stadium and the proposed Farmers Field in Los Angeles.

Within Texas, the Dallas Cowboys’ deal for AT&T Stadium also has been reportedly valued at between $17 million and $19 million per year, compared to the $10 million average annual value for the Houston deal.

Houston was selected to host the 2017 Super Bowl last year. The city last hosted the game in 2004.

Mark Yost writes for the Houston Business Journal, an affiliated publication.