UCF reveals baseball expansion plans
On Thursday afternoon, I had the privilege to sit in on a meeting with UCF senior associate AD David Hansen and other staffers as they outlined Phase II of Baseball Stadium Expansion.
The renderings of the new "Home Plate Tower" - which features a new pressbox and premium seating - were officially unveiled prior to Friday's "Opening Knight." A 3D model was also shown on the video board after the first inning.
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Previously, renovations to the complex were split up in three phases (the first phase being last year's second level seating and an extension of seats along the first base line). This phase, Phase II, represents the completion of the ballpark. There is no longer a Phase III. Of course, further expansion is always an option down the road. More on that later.
All of this information comes directly from Hansen, who has been at UCF for seven years. In addition to overseeing several sports (baseball obviously is one) he's also in charge of facility planning. Prior to coming to UCF, Hansen was a top administrator at Southern Miss when they expanded and renovated their baseball stadium.
The cost of the project is $2.5M with an estimated start date of summer 2013. The exact date is TBD, but July is likely. It would be completed by February 2014. DLR Group is designing the project and Skanska is the construction firm.
The current pressbox will be demolished to make room for what they're calling the "Home Plate Tower." The concourse would remain open, so one would always have a view of the field. With the current pressbox out of the way, fans would be able to see the field as they walk into the ballpark. I can definitely see the open areas behind the lower level being very popular for standing/mingling.
The second level is a club area - called the "Private Club Terrace" - that will seat 300 people. Alcohol would be available for purchase. They initially thought about having an enclosed space, but with the majority of baseball season taking place in the spring when Orlando has great weather, they decided to keep it open-air. The club concourse is fully shaded and would be a prime spot for socializing.
Prices for a club seat will vary from $500-600. I believe you can get the $500 price if you make a 3-year commitment. UCF officials believe the club area will sell out fairly quickly. They already have a list of people who are interested and will continue to push for commitments throughout the rest of this season.
The current capacity of the ballpark is 3,600. The club area will add 300 seats. There will be two "loge" areas - called "Sky Decks" - on opposite sides of the third-level pressbox which would hold around 60 more people. So official capacity may be 3,960.
The "Sky Decks" offer another premium seating area that would be ideal for groups, etc.
Fans will be able to enjoy alcohol in their club or loge seats because it is considered a private, restricted area. The reason fans can't take beer out of the club into their seats at the football stadium is because the section isn't separated.
The enclosed third-level structure you see in the renderings is the pressbox. UCF's current pressbox is small, cramped and very inefficient. There's a seating problem when the opposing team brings a radio crew, and becomes really bad when there's a TV broadcast. It's just one space. This pressbox changes all that. There will be separate booths for two radio crews and a TV crew. UCF video will have their own space for their production. There's also an area for the P/A announcer and scoreboard operator, print/internet media, etc.
The pressbox can be enclosed, but Hansen would like to install a glass window system that lifts up to allow for unobstructed views. He is going to take a look at South Carolina's baseball facilty to see what they installed. I saw something like that when I toured the Cincinnati Reds ballpark, which had glass windows that retracted upward, like a garage door.
Right now there are no enclosed private suites. UCF felt the club and loge options fulfilled the current demand. In the future, the loge areas could be enclosed to make a suite.
The biggest thing that jumped out to me was how they addressed shading. The "Home Plate Tower" will include a roof/overhang that will shade the entire lowel level, even during Sunday games at 1 p.m. They did several sun angle studies, including a mockup of the sun's position on June 21 at 12 noon, to ensure this would shade that level year-round. I saw the renderings that included the shading element.
The lack of shaded seating has been an issue that has affected Sunday attendance, in my opinion. The addition of the second deck this past year helped a little bit. The only area that won't be shaded is the actual second deck, but everything underneath will be.
Hansen said this would be a stadium comparable to a Minor League Baseball facility.
What appeals to Hansen is the intimacy of the ballpark. All of the seats are close to the field. At most stadiums, because of large lower sections, any second level or club area would be set far back from the playing field. This will not be the case at UCF.
The "Home Plate Tower" will be the same height as six-story building, so it will definitely change the look of the ballpark not only from the inside but also from the outside.
The tower will be concrete block.
The area behind the third base dugout would be available for further expansion if that is needed down the road. In the meantime, UCF would like to install a children's play area that would include a playground and picnic tables. They are looking for a sponsor to make it happen.
All in all, I came away extremely impressed. It will be definitely be a unique look. I asked Hansen if there were any similar structures, perhaps in the minor leagues, and he didn't know of any.
This facility would certainly be capable of hosting NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals. The look and feel of a real ballpark also should assist with growing the fanbase, and recruiting should also benefit when prospects can see they'll be playing in a stadium that will be among the best in the state.