BRADENTON -- The recently renovated and vastly improved McKechnie Field, equipped with a wide boardwalk bordering the outfield and a large tiki bar, has won the Design Excellence award given by the Florida Planning and Zoning Association.
The ballpark, which is the Pittsburgh Pirates' Major League Baseball spring-training facility and home field for the minor league Bradenton Marauders, won for its superior entertainment factors and function as an athletic venue, said Lara Diettrich, FPZA awards and committee chairwoman.
Diettrich said McKechnie Field stood out among the applicants because it is more than just a baseball facility.
"Usually, sporting arenas are designed to corral the fans," she said. "They wanted the fans to have a lot of access. They wanted the fan to have a fabulous experience."
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said winning national and state honors are rewarding, but the city really cares when residents appreciate city redevelopment.
"It's better when the people who live in Bradenton appreciate what we've done," he said. "That's who we did it for."
Poston said the city is excited about what the award means for Bradenton.
"It's an opportunity for people to recognize what a nice community we have," said Poston.
Rick Fawley, president of the Fawley Bryant Architects Bradenton, designed the park renovations and worked closely with city and county officials to make sure the ballpark was fan friendly.
"It's not just about baseball," said Fawley.
Fawley said he and his team kept the charm of the historic park, which opened in 1923, along with much-needed updates such as lighting and more seating, now at 8,500.
Fans also have more concession stands, an upgraded sound system and a better view of players warming up with accessible batting cages.
"It's a totally different experience than before," said Fawley. The project cost almost $10 million.
Trevor Gooby, Pittsburgh Pirates director of Florida operations, said Fawley Bryant and Bradenton officials were tremendous to work with throughout the renovation.
"The Pirates organization is thankful for this kind of award," he said. "The fans, sponsors and even the players loved the new look."
Gooby said other ballpark operators could consult on how to improve their parks.
"For spring training, we are among the best in baseball," he said. "In my opinion we are the best."
Janey Tate, city of Bradenton and Palmetto reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. You can follow her on Twitter at Janey_Tate.