Bradenton business owners excited about McKechnie upgrades

nwilliams@bradenton.comDecember 23, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Baseball enthusiasts aren't the only ones anticipating the unveiling of the $10 million renovation to McKechnie Field.

Business owners who share the neighborhood with the ballpark are hoping the uplift will result in increased traffic and revenue.

Completion of the Pittsburgh Pirates' spring training home since 1969 is slated for mid-February, in time for the ball club's intrasquad game Feb. 22. Upgrades at the facility, also the home stadium for the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates' minor league affiliate, include adding 2,000 seats, a 19,000-square-foot wooden boardwalk with tiki bar, covered bleacher seats, a building in centerfield that includes a concession stand, and a luxury, two-level party deck in left field that accommodates up to 80 people.

Gus Johnson owns Popi's Place, a Greek family restaurant that shares Ninth Street West with the ball park at the corner 17th Avenue. During spring training, business at his restaurant spikes by 20 percent.

"I'm excited," he said. "They're going from 6,000 to 9,000 seats. That's more people in the area, whether from Bradenton or out of town."

During the season, Johnson, whose business closes at 3 p.m. during the work week, charges for parking in his lot. He's hopeful the renovations will lead to more events at the stadium.

Others agree.

"The expansion and renovation of McKechnieis certainly going to driveadditional attendance atspring training games,and spring training is a significant economic driver in Manatee County," said Jacki Dezelski, vice president of community development for Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

Gaetano Cannata, owner-chef at Ortygia, a Mediterranean-style restaurant just a few blocks from McKechnie at 1418 13th St. W. in Village of the Arts, also benefits from spring training.

"I get a lot of repeat offenders that know if they're coming down for spring training, they'll make reservations," he said.

Like Johnson, Cannata allows fans who potentially venture into his establishment to park in his lot.

"The improvements will greatly help the Village of the Arts, my business and all businesses in the village," Cannata said.

The northbound laneon Ninth Street West between 17th Avenue and 13th Avenue will be closed Dec. 26-29 for a crane and construction work outside the ballpark.

Trevor Goodby, the Pittsburgh Pirates' director of Florida operations, said the lane is being closed so workers can install steel roof structures over the infield reserve seats.

Those seats have been removed and will be replaced with traditional baseball flip-up chairs.

Gooby said the new seats will be installed in early January.

"Everything is moving forward," Gooby said.

Johnson said construction at the ballpark has been a hindrance to customers, but he knows the end result will be worth his patience.

"I can't complain, looking at the big picture," he said.

Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7049.

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