McKechnie renovation a big hit with Ballpark Digest

jlembo@bradenton.comNovember 8, 2013 

BRADENTON -- McKechnie Field's major overhaul was a hit with baseball fans during the spring and summer.

Now it is getting some national attention, too.

On Thursday, Ballpark Digest named the project the year's Best Ballpark Renovation (over $1 million).

"We're proud that a national publication would recognize our project," said Trevor Gooby, senior director of Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have played spring training games at McKechnie Field since 1969.

"And we agree -- the project came out just the way we wanted to."

Fawley/Bryant Architects did the design and NDC Construction did the construction, which included a 19,000-square-foot, 360-degree boardwalk featuring a tiki bar, restroom, concession stand, party decks and a new set of bleachers in left field.

The renovation also added 2,000 seats, pushing McKechnie Field's attendance range to more than 8,500, as well as new field-level flip-chairs, more restrooms, new roofs and a fan plaza.

Yet McKechnie Field, which opened in 1923, still maintained its vintage charm and intimacy, said Kevin Reichard,

publisher of the Wisconsin-based Ballpark Digest.

"Keeping that atmosphere was very important for the Pirates and their fans," Reichard said Thursday, "and the renovations maintained that traditional feel while still featuring the amenities fans have come to expect in spring training."

Richard Fawley, president of Fawley/Bryant, said improving the fan experience was at the center of the renovations, which included more restrooms and more points of purchase at the concession stands.

"When you're standing in line in the restroom, you're not buying beer and you're not watching the ballgame," Fawley said.

Bullpens were also moved to behind the fence in right and left field, giving fans a chance to walk the boardwalk while catching a glimpse of a big-league pitcher warming up.

"You're right there. You're within talking distance of these guys, especially in spring training, with a looser atmosphere," " Fawley said Thursday afternoon. "And that was the essence of McKechnie to begin with - it's more intimate than other parks around.

"It was absolutely not about changing it, but about improving upon it. We were happy and proud to do it, and I just want to thank everybody involved. You know they say it takes a village to raise a child? It takes a community to build a ballpark."

The project was a hit with the community - a record 93,433 fans flocked to McKechnie Field last spring. And the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates' high Single-A affiliate who have been playing Florida State League games in McKechnie since 2010, drew a record 109,845 fans in 62 games over the summer.

Those numbers could swell in 2014 after the Pirates rolled this year to their first winning record and playoff appearance since 1992.

Gooby said the Pirates' spring schedule should be released in the next week to 10 days.

"We're counting down the days. It's less than 100 days until pitchers and catchers report," Gooby said. "It's going to be a tremendous year."

John Lembo, Herald sports reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7057.

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