It looks like millions of improvements planned for McKechnie Field will now be done in phases rather than one $7 million project.
The city and the Pirates recently were told that $5 million in federal funds they expected to receive — to expand stadium parking and seating, and create fan-friendly areas at the park like a tiki bar and decks — was not approved.
“We were a bit surprised when it didn’t happen, but when you are dealing with the federal government, that’s what happens,” said Carl Callahan, city clerk for the city of Bradenton. “We are in limbo right now.”
The money would have come from excess disaster funds available from the Economic Development Agency. Another $2 million has been approved from the Tourist Development Council in $150,000 yearly installments.
So Callahan is back talking with EDA officials and believes the city can get $1.5 million to $2 million at a time, and gradually make the improvements.
“It would have been ideal to do it all at once, but we’re talking about scaling down and phasing the improvements in,” he said.
Trevor Gooby, senior director of Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates, said the baseball operation is working with the city to sort out priorities when the funding does come through.
“We are definitely interested in fan amenities,” Gooby said.
Seating capacity at McKechnie is now 6,500 and the average spring training attendance was 6,700 a game, he said.
“There are definitely some games where we have to turn people away the day of the game for lack of seating,” he said. “We’d like to change that.”
Original plans had called for renovations, which also would include an interactive video scoreboard and improvements to the concession area, to start in mid-2010. Now there is no definitive time frame, but both men are hoping it will be sooner rather than later.
Callahan is hoping the money will come in this year so that improvements can be made before 2011 spring training starts and the new minor league team — the Marauders — begins its second season.
“The sooner the better,” he said. “There is a lot of excitement right now with the new minor league team, so it would be great to get it going.”