It’s awards season at Ballpark Digest! This was the Year of the Renovation in the ballpark world, so we’re kicking things off with an award for best ballpark renovation under $10 million. A blueprint for any city seeking to improve their ballpark can be found in Madison, where Warner Park is the clear choice for a 2011 Ballpark Renovation of the Year award.
With municipal budgets tightening and family budgets downsized, new ballparks are a luxury in these tough times. That’s why we’re seeing many cities and counties work to improve what they have, rather than tear down and build anew.
“Renovation, as opposed to new construction, is the hot trend in ballpark architecture,” said Kevin Reichard, publisher of Ballpark Digest. “It’s cheaper than new construction, and with a little planning it’s greener than new construction. The makeover of Warner Park by the Mallards and the city of Madison is a textbook example of how a ballpark renovation should be done: it was done at an affordable price level, most of the old ballpark was recycled for other use in the ballpark, and it truly added to the comfort level for fans.”
Opening in 1982 as the home of the Midwest League’s Madison Muskies, Warner Park also served as an indy-ball venue before the Northwoods League’s Madison Mallards opened for business on June 2, 2001. Over the years the Mallards front office made many improvements to the ballpark, including the addition of the Duck Blind (an all-you-care-to-eat venue in the right-field corner) and a premium area featuring seats from Wrigley Field.
It was clear, through, that something more dramatic was needed; the metal bleachers making up the grandstand were at the end of their functional life. The Mallards and the city used this as a reason to replace the metal bleachers with a new metal grandstand construction, installing recycled seats from Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards and building a new club behind home plate. The repositioned new seats are closer to the field, while a new upper-level concourse allows fans to move through the ballpark without missing any of the action. The total cost of the renovations, which also included a new team shop, was under $2 million.
“We’re Ballparkdigest.com fans, so it is really an honor for us to receive this recognition,” said Mallards President Vern Stenman. “We feel our focus on innovative use of recycled materials, and the focus on fan comfort made this project really standout and that the ballpark is very reflective of the values of the city we live in. A lot of the ideas that inspired this project came from the pages of Ballparkdigest.com, which makes this award even more special.”
“The fact that we sold out 26 of 34 dates in our renovated grandstand is a testament that our investment in the fan experience was a home run for our fans,” said Mallards GM Conor Caloia. “Thanks to Ballparkdigest.com for the recognition!”
Despite the replacement of the bleachers by chairback seating, capacity at Warner Park remains the same: 6,750. That capacity is tested all season long, as the Mallards are by far the top draw in the summer-collegiate field, drawing 200,000+ fans annually for six straight years and averaged 6,278 fans a game in 2011.
“Warner Park is certainly one of the leading venues in the summer game, and the Mallards run an operation that’s second to none,” Reichard said. “It’s great to see the team’s loyal fans rewarded with an upgraded, noteworthy ballpark.”
ABOUT THE BALLPARK DIGEST AWARDS
Each year Ballpark Digest honors noteworthy accomplishments in the baseball world, whether it be Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, independent baseball, summer-collegiate baseball or college baseball. Readers are asked to submit nominations for awards in specific categories; Ballpark Digest editors then go though the submissions and select winners. The awards cover both individual accomplishments as well as team accomplishments. This is the fifth season for the Ballpark Digest Awards. A complete listing of Ballpark Digest Awards can be found at ballparkdigest.com/awards.
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