Today’s featured project is Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium, the home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Midwest league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. For an in-depth overview of the project and behind scenes video check out Episode One of “The Details” on our website by clicking the link below.
The original ballpark was completed in 1995 for $6M. The Fox Cities Amateur Sports Authority invested an additional $6M in a complete renovation for the 2013 season. The renovation included doubling the existing concession and restroom infrastructure, new administrative offices, new team store, expanded storage, the addition of six premium sky boxes, and a banquet facility to accommodate 400 patrons year-round.
Baseball is and always will be America’s favorite pastime. It represents everything we love about sports; enjoying the outdoors from spring through summer, an ice-cold beer, a few grilled hot dogs, and roasted peanuts. Let’s not forget about the precision of the perfectly thrown pitch and the unmistakable crack of the wooden bat when it makes contact with a leather-covered ball, which somehow influences us to set aside the anxieties of life and focus on what’s good. Whenever we’ve had to endure tough times as a nation baseball has always been there for us. This makes baseball more than just a game, it’s like emotional muscle memory. For some reason every time we pass through ballpark gates we immediately recall the good times. In all honestly, I think this concept of “emotional muscle memory” is why baseball purists are so passionate about preserving the look and feel of the old-time ballpark. It’s there to remind us of the good times we had with our fathers and our grandfathers just two generations back, and we can’t forget that it’s no longer just a game for men and boys…Minor League Baseball (MiLB) has made it a family affair, which I think is a key to how we continue to evolve the fan experience in the future.
The Future Forecast
The demand for new and substantially renovated ballparks will continue to grow. However, the rules associated with securing financing to support this growth will continue to be a moving target; for the first time in a long time, creativity is not just on the shoulders of the architect. New ballparks are going to continue to develop where there’s population density. Although this is not a new concept, the real focus is going to be in the diversification of ballpark offerings. Without question ballparks are going to continue to get smaller which promotes environmental and economic sustainability. Intuitively smaller ballparks should warrant smaller construction costs, yet I don’t think it’s that simple. The reality is we are headed toward a much more aggressive “ballpark village” concept that significantly blurs the demarkation line between public and private space. This will cost money on the front end but will yield benefits in due time for team owners and municipalities with true vision. We’ve seen modest efforts in the regard in places like Fort Wayne, Indiana at Parkview Field, with concourses open to the public in non-game day conditions but I want more. We proposed a truly blurred line ballpark concept in suburban Columbia, South Carolina back in 2005 that ended up being a vote or two short of reality (see opening image), yet the energy behind my thoughts then are slowly gaining ground again.
The real question that can only be answered in time is how will baseball respond to change? In my travels I continue to see aggressive interest in small to mid size markets that just want a fraction of what MiLB has accomplished at a larger scale, yet access to the affiliated brand is incredibly limited. In all fairness the only opportunity for growth outside of expansion in virtually all of affiliated baseball is a change in venue a la build a new ballpark in a new community. We’ll continue to see the desire for this type of move develop here and there reminiscent of the Hartford Yard Goats leaving New Britain, CT to build Dunkin’ Donuts Park just 12 miles away in nearby Hartford, CT, but I think soon investor’s hands will be tied, team valuations are at an all time high and MiLB mandated territorial restrictions leave very few options available. I predict we’ll see enhanced investment in college wood bat teams by affiliated brands similar to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers who launched a Northwoods League team two seasons ago in Fond Du Lac, WI. This leads me to believe the demand for a “small park” business model will continue to grow. Cities like Gastonia, North Carolina recognize the benefits of utilizing a ballpark as an economic development catalyst for adjacent underutilized parcels. The Fuse District Multi-Sport Facility to be located just west of the heart of Downtown Gastonia (see images above) has just broken ground and is scheduled for completion in March of 2021. Pendulum worked with City leadership to compress the ballpark envelope as much as possible to allow room for development pad sites to be intermingled within the ballpark footprint with unparalleled views to the field of play.
The completion of Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, MI (pictured above) four seasons ago is proof of this concept. Although it is not an affiliated brand of baseball, and there have been a number of critics making their case based on this fact, the key to the long-term success of the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) is clearly the development of the next “right sized” ballpark to lesson the strain of four teams in a standalone venue. Over-utilization of a ballpark designed for short season play (off site team administration, modest clubhouse accommodations, and limited storage) will begin to take a toll in the next couple of seasons without a sizable infusion of capital improvement funds.
Enhanced Technology Integration
The ballpark of the future must allow it’s owner to embrace diversity in the marketplace, generate revenue, and energize the community it serves. I believe integration of new and emerging technology is the next frontier. The only way I can truly support this claim is to take you as the reader back to the beginning of my career as a sports architect. In 1998 I was introduced to Mr. Henry Stickney who was then CEO of Mandalay Baseball Properties. The time I spent with him and his incredibly bright marketing and operations team between 1998 and the opening of my first MiLB ballpark, Fifth Third Field in Dayton, OH (pictured on the left) was eye-opening. Of the many things I learned, the most important as it relates to this discussion is when Mr. Stickney told me that “we’ve got to change the way people think about what we’re selling”. Fifth Third Field is significant in this regard because to the best of my knowledge it paved the way for things to come in the use of technology specifically as it relates to sponsorship and advertising. While most teams at this point (April 2000) followed tradition and plastered advertising all over the outfield wall, Fifth Third Field changed the game by incorporating technology borrowed from NBA scorer’s table roller boards adapted for outdoor use in the outfield wall. For the first time in Class A ball, if not all of MiLB rotating sponsor messaging (other than the rudimentary tri-vision signs) was in play but they didn’t stop there. Within the next two seasons a major investment was made in digital ribbon boards…again borrowing technology that we’ve seen lining the rim of the upper deck in NBA arenas for years, now being used outdoors with and incredible impact on revenue potential. Fast-forwarding to today, ribbon boards and super-sized scoreboards are par for the course, yet it seems to be where we’ve paused for the moment as a design community, and frankly it feels like “low hanging fruit”, I want more…
In 2010 we proposed a new Class AA ballpark for the Expo 67 site in Montreal Quebec Canada (pictured above) with the intent of placing technology at the forefront of our concept . The field was to be heated, the warning track was equipped to flood for ice skating, the entire outfield – foul pole to foul pole would consist of towering multi-media displays integrated for use during ball games, concerts, hockey exhibitions, conventions, etc. Yet again the project fell victim to vacillating political will yet I think the spirit and intent of our thoughts then will start to emerge in ballparks to come. However, I predict emphasis will be less on just named advertising sponsor benefits, It think we’ll start to see more input, options, and control being offered to the consumer. The reality is that the majority of ballpark patrons have a smart phone at his/her disposal. This is certainly different from when I was an early teen – at best there was one “phone-in-a-bag” per household (if that), and the chance of me having random access to the only mobile phone in the house at that time was slim to none, it never left my father’s side. Today, in addition to “a” smart phone there’s more than likely a tablet, and laptop for each individual in the family. This begs the question, when are teams going to start truly capitalizing on this technology?
In 2011/12 the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers out of necessity started offering app driven concession orders (due to limited points of sale). Patrons could order through the app and they would be texted when it was ready for pick up. After we renovated the ballpark for the 2013 season we increased the points of sale by double and as revealed in our interview with team president Rob Zerjav in “The Details Episode One” , the new point of sale ratio was so good that patron’s use of the app dropped significantly.
I think consumers are ready for the next round of innovation in ballpark offerings and integrated technology. I certainly have strong opinions on where I think things are headed, bekin technology in some form is at the top of my list. This type of technology reaches beyond simple bolt on solutions, for successful integration it’s going to take a collaborative effort across a number of disciplines (architecture, app development, environmental graphics, way-finding, acoustical engineers, lighting designers, artists, etc.). Most importantly it’s going to take thought leadership from the front office…we need you to not be afraid to look ahead and influence change. For this reason I think everyone should keep their eyes on the Hartford Yard Goats. I’ve spent a lot of time with Josh Solomon and Tim Restall over the last two years and I can sincerely tell you that their organization’s willingness to put it all out there is refreshing, first and foremost for the Eastern League, but also for me as a sports architect. We’ve collaborated at length on ideas involving the incorporation of interactive digital directional messaging at Dunkin’ Donuts Park (pictured below). Although we haven’t totally resolved the finished product, the infrastructure is in place.
Next Up – Future Stadia
Ballpark design for the future as identified in this discussion will promote building smaller compact footprints as a key component in a larger context. Technology will be brought to the forefront and will promote more than just naming rights and advertising, the consumer will have an opportunity to jump in the driver’s seat with multimedia, concession, and merchandise. The data collected in this space should push per-caps to an all time high. That being said, yes…caution is warranted – we as designers and fans of the game have to make sure that we avoid trying to force the sport into being overly complicated and distracting; after all, our “emotional muscle memory” still craves baseball nostalgia so let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is still the perfect game…and at the end of the day, it’s about being sixty feet & six inches from the pitcher’s mound to home plate, and ninety feet between the bases. I don’t think we’ll ever see that change, and that’s a good thing.
That being said, this is an interesting time in sports. With the growing interest in soccer as a sport in the USA and the success of MLS and the recently restructured USL, baseball is not the only option for municipal leaders in search of economic development catalysts. Pendulum and a select team of partners is looking ahead to a time when we as designers offer more than professional services. Instead we use our expertise to formulate products that focus on a modular delivery methodology. We start with a building core that is able to expand in phases and grow with the host community – it’s “The Small Big Idea” personified.
Jonathan Cole is one of the founding principals of Pendulum, a multi-disciplinary architectural practice based in Kansas City, MO. Jonathan has over twenty-five years of dedicated experience in design, documentation, construction and business practice associated with Minor League ballparks.
Approximately twelve years ago the President & General Manager of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Rob Zerjav and I began “chatting” about the “what ifs”. Those of us in the sports design business are very familiar with this “chat”, in fact we all field calls and chase down leads with team owners, municipalities, and general managers in hopes of being selected to design the next ballpark. To be honest, 75% of the time the projects never happen after pouring your entire being into getting it across the finish line. For some reason this project felt like the exception to the rule. We’d get heavily involved in charting a course and then we’d slow down for a year or two…”the timing is just not right” Rob would tell me. We’d start again and we’d inch closer but then we’d slow down again. Finally after ten years I got an email from Rob saying “I know you’ve heard this before, but this time I think we’ve got a good shot”. The rest is history.
My father always says “timing is everything”. That familiar phrase used to frustrate me as a youth but I can see the wisdom in his words now. The truth of the matter is if Rob and I would have closed the deal 12 years ago the ballpark “addition” (I refuse to call it a renovation anymore), would be totally different from what it is today. The project matured over time as the traditional baseball model continued to evolve.
The original ballpark was constructed in 1995 for a total of $5,000,000. Since the ballpark was designed for only seasonal use (no winters), there was a substantial void in premium amenities which translates to unattained annual potential revenue. While our initial focus was on a ballpark renovation that would fix minimum compliance issues per the MiLB Facility Standards, Rob and I both knew that there was more to this project than a few band aids. The Club Lounge is what makes this renovation an “addition”.
We added a full service kitchen and 30 foot bar to accommodate the 4,500 square foot Club Lounge. Over 400 guests are comfortably served at events with premium views to the playing field surface and outdoor access to the tiered balcony deck equipped with padded stadium seating. State of the art audio and visual equipment including a projection screen and LED televisions facilitate presentations during corporate events and weddings which push the space over the top.
The one programmatic item that never changed during our “chats” was the fact that Rob wanted to make a visual impact with the new covered ballpark main entry, team store and front office. He was very consistent in saying “this organization and my staff deserve to look professional and feel like champions”. We added approximately 20,000 square feet of retail, administrative, and hospitality spaces to this ballpark, in essence doubling the original (1995) enclosed square footage.
Design Architect – Pendulum
Signage & Graphic Design – Pendulum
Architect of Record – The Boldt Company
Approximately 50% of the existing structure was demolished
The overall enclosed square footage was doubled
Toilet fixtures and Concession points of sales were doubled in capacity
Ballpark storage capacity was doubled
Yes – the ballpark now meets MiLB Facility Standards
Rob Zerjav, you are a man of your word and one of the most gracious individuals I know. Thank You!
John Iiams – Our “ambassador of kwan” – great effort on this project!
Although it was a cold and rainy day in early April 2013, the formal reveal of the ballpark renovation effort was warmly received by the public. After ten years of talking, sketching, brainstorming, 3D modeling, and tearing through rolls of trace paper, the vision of a new Time Warner Cable Field as seen through the eyes of Team President and General Manager Rob Zerjav was finally realized; and in our opinion it was worth the long wait.
Pendulum Studio was tasked with designing a renovated facility that would not only compete in the current marketplace but also look toward the future and answer the question…”where is the market going?” We believe the answer to that question is different for every market based on a number of complex variables, i.e. size of market, existing amenities and infrastructure, and financing options. However, at the root of the issue at Time Warner Cable Field was first resolving the basic need to increase fundamental front office infrastructure that included new administrative offices, team store, doubling the capacity of fan toilets and concessions.
The remainder of the allocated budget was focused on enhanced curb appeal/street presence and increased premium amenities for year-round use. The series of images below focus on the premium club addition located above the existing main concourse behind home plate. The newly constructed 10,000 square foot program includes the following:
VIP lobby & elevator
Banquet space to accommodate 250 patrons
Club lounge overlooking the new main entry
Six premium suites
Outdoor banquet seating
Integrated AV system for weddings and corporate functions
Full service banquet kitchen and prep area
Executive wash rooms
Stay tuned for final images…once it stops raining and snowing in Wisconsin. We’ll be posting a complete walking tour of the facilities last spring/early summer.
Things are coming together at Time Warner Cable Field. Most of the major design elements are in place and we’re now focused on the small details. Signage and way-finding installation is well under way. Opening day on April 8th is going to be a night to remember.
As the design for the new ballpark continues to evolve we are starting to get a feel for some of the new premium spaces – a bit of a departure from tradition with the furniture layout. We believe it compliments where the premium game day is headed – less about the living room and more about community and interaction.
Pendulum Studio has been selected to design the renovation of Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium located in Grand Chute, WI. The ballpark was originally constructed in 1995 during an era of MiLB ballparks geared primarily toward compliance with minimum National Association (NA) facility standards. Although this strategy provided a safe and comfortable destination for enjoying America’s favorite pastime, shifts in the traditional baseball business model over the past 17 years has presented quite a few challenges for most teams operating in facilities built prior to the late 90’s. Some of the key challenges associated with maintaining a competitive edge in aged facilities are as follows:
Shortage of concession points of sale
Lack of appropriate toilet fixture ratios
Lack of diversity in seating inventory
Absence of premium amenities
Limited ability to function on a year-round basis
inadequate storage capacity
While the traditional baseball business model focused on the “game”, the new in minor league baseball is centered around maximizing fan comfort and family entertainment. Although “the game” is still the vehicle for attracting patrons to the front gates, “the show” between innings on the field, during the game in the stands and on the concourses is what keeps people (especially families) coming back for more. Because of the popularity in this trend, new and renovated facilities are moving toward more compact lower density seating configurations that promote diversity in seating inventory (group, premium, semi-premium) versus the typical fixed armchair seating. In the wake of the decline of corporate participation in the form of sponsorship and long-term premium suite lease agreements we now see teams trending heavily toward multi-use flex spaces in the form of meeting rooms and banquet space that can also be configured to accommodate traditional suite functions during games. This move has enabled teams to extend facility use beyond the confines of the regular season thus also maximizing the potential for revenue which promotes economic sustainability.
The planned improvements to Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium are geared toward complimenting some of the forward thinking improvements that were already completed prior to the previous season. These improvements were instrumental in diversifying existing seating inventory – i.e. the first & third base bullpen premium seating shown below.
This next phase of improvements will focus on relocating enclosed premium inventory from the main concourse to a newly constructed suite/banquet level, expanding administrative, retail, food service and storage capacity while increasing the ability of the facility to accommodate year-round events. The images below illustrate the proposed look and feel of our schematic design concepts. We will continue to update this imagery as we progress toward the final design and documentation. It is an honor to be working with the Timber Rattlers on this exciting project. Opening day in April 2013 is going to be special.