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2014 Best New Ballpark: Southwest University Park


A ballpark should be more than just a ballpark: it should be designed to be an integral part of the community. With distinct neighborhoods and design decisions that tied the ballpark’s look into historic downtown El Paso, Southwest University Park is Best New Ballpark of the Year in the 2014 annual awards from Ballpark Digest.

“Everyone loves downtown ballparks, but they represent huge challenges for architects and team management,” said Kevin Reichard, Ballpark Digest publisher. “Southwest University Park manages to overcome some very real challenges, turning potential drawbacks into a site design that’s integrated into the downtown neighborhood while also providing great views of the surrounding area.”

“This is truly an honor for the entire community of El Paso,” said Josh Hunt, Managing Partner of Mountain Star Sports Group. “The collaboration between Populous, the City of El Paso, the construction team and support from the community and region helped to create a first-class facility and the best environment in Minor League Baseball.”

“We are very proud of this award and thank Ballpark Digest for the acknowledgement,” said Chihuahuas President Alan Ledford. “Ultimately, this award reflects on the effort and commitment of an amazingly talented team of people who made Southwest University Park a reality – our architects from Populous, and our team of design consultants; our contractor; the construction team from the City of El Paso; and, of course, our ownership which provided the vision and commitment to achieve excellence and improve the quality of life in our community.  Finally, a very special thank you goes out to the thousands of Chihuahuas fans that created the incredible environment for each and every game at Southwest University Park.”

The architecture firm, Populous, designed the downtown El Paso ballpark on a little less than six acres of land. Populous also designed Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres (the Chihuahuas Major League Affiliate), Marlins Park in Miami (2012), Target Field in Minneapolis (2010), and Yankee Stadium in 2009, to name a few.

“It’s an honor to have Southwest University Park named Ballpark of the year. As a design team, it’s been a joy to see what an immediate impact the ballpark has had on the city and to see the community embrace the experience of downtown baseball,” said David Bower, Principal at Populous. “One of the ballpark’s most interesting features is that it is situated on perhaps the tightest site in Minor League Baseball, allowing us to create an urban, uniquely asymmetrical park that is authentically El Paso. We feel a tremendous sense of pride in the ballpark and know that it will be a spot where Minor League Baseball flourishes for decades to come.”

Southwest University Park is situated in downtown El Paso, a challenging location mandating a vertical ballpark design – a design that also yielded great views of the Franklin Mountains and downtown El Paso. The asymmetric design lent itself well to the creation of “neighborhoods” within the ballpark: discrete areas of seating designed to foster a sense of community amongst fans and to provide different and unique experiences.

Two buildings, the Santa Fe Pavilion and Big Dog House, adorn right field with hospitality areas for parties and individuals alike. The ballpark also features commissioned public artwork that is displayed on both the exterior and interior of the venue. With its stained glass clock tower, porcelain hand-painted murals, and “Knot-Hole Fence” the ballpark gives visitors more than just baseball, but an education of El Paso’s long history.  Southwest University Park incorporates El Paso’s rich history with its unique design.  Situated in the heart of downtown, the red brick exterior resembles the nearby Union Depot and includes a box car-like façade and archways along the concourse.

The asymmetric design lent itself well to the creation of “neighborhoods” within the ballpark: discrete areas of seating designed to foster a sense of community amongst fans and to provide different and unique experiences.

“At the end of the day, what matters is what the fans think of the ballpark,” Reichard said. “The answer is clear: the Chihuahuas sold out nearly 75 percent of its games – 48 of 67 – and ended up attracting 548,435 fans for the season. The Chihuahuas were a huge hit in El Paso, and Southwest University Park was at the core of that success.”

Image: El Paso Chihuahuas vs the Fresno Grizzlies on opening day in El Paso on Monday, April 28, 2014 in El Paso. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/El Paso Chihuahuas.

Each year Ballpark Digest honors noteworthy accomplishments in the baseball world: Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, independent baseball, summer-collegiate baseball and college baseball. Here’s a list of the 2014 awards, both already awarded and to come:

Broadcaster of the Year: Steve Klauke, Salt Lake Bees
Best New Logo / Branding: Akron RubberDucks
Organization of the Year: Big Top Baseball
Best MiLB Promotion: Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Best Summer Collegiate Promotion: Kalamazoo Growlers
Editor’s Choice: Granderson Stadium, University of Illinois at Chicago
Best New Food Item: BIG APPLE, Fort Wayne TinCaps

Best Ballpark Improvement: Ferris wheel, Quad Cities River Bandits
Best Ballpark Renovation Under $2 Million: Simmons Field, Kenosha Kingfish
Best Ballpark Renovation Over $2 Million: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham Bulls

Team of the Year: Fort Wayne TinCaps
Best New Ballpark: Southwest University Park

Nov. 17: Best Marketing, Executive of the Year

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