BRADENTON -- Plans for $7.5 million in fan-friendly upgrades at McKechnie Field were unanimously approved Wednesday by the Bradenton City Council in hopes of making the venue more attractive to fans and an appealing tourism destination.
McKechnie, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring training home and regular season home of the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates Single-A affiliate, will become a 360-degree ballpark with features that include new seating in the outfield, a tiki bar in center field, and a boardwalk, said Carl Callahan, city clerk and treasurer.
The bullpens will also be moved toward the outfield and fans will be able to go on the boardwalk to get a close look of the players, he said.
“As you walk behind the bullpen you can see pitchers warming up,” Callahan said. “It’s a great amenity for fans to get that close.”
Covered bleachers will be added by the left and right fields, increasing the park’s capacity from 6,500 to 8,500, said Callahan.
“This will give more fans the opportunity to see the teams and have an intimate feeling, there’s no other stadium like that,” said Trevor Gooby, senior director of Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “We want to keep that type of field.”
Through an interlocal agreement, Manatee County will provide funding for the project through the tourist development tax.
“There’s no local property tax involved,” said Mayor Wayne Poston.
The “bed tax” is levied on area visitors for who stay in local hotels. A total of $400,000 per year will be provided to the city for 20 years. That contribution is set to help cover the $7.5 million loan the city took out in February for the renovations.
Gooby said he hoped the park’s enhancements would help attract people from Pittsburgh and other areas outside Bradenton.
Infrastructure work is set to begin in August. Work will continue after the end of the Marauders’ season in September.
The city expects to have the upgrades completed by February 2013 and ready for the Pirates’ spring training.
McKechnie Field will be celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2013. The original field was built in 1923 and was named after Bill McKechnie, a Hall of Fame manager originally from Pittsburgh and former Bradenton resident, according to the Marauders’ official website.