Who doesn’t love a Ferris wheel? In Davenport, a new Ferris wheel is just one of the improvements this season to Modern Woodmen Park, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low Class A; Midwest League).
We had a chance to take in a River Bandits game with the kids this weekend, including some serious time on the colorful Ferris wheel. We’re not talking about a small, portable amusement-park Ferris wheel here: we’re talking about a permanently installed ride soaring some 108 feet above the playing field, designed to be used even when the ballpark is empty. Now, amusement rides are not unusual in the ballpark world – plenty of ballparks, including those in Hickory, Winston-Salem and Louisville, feature carousels and other smaller amusement rides – but the River Bandits installation is the first permanent Ferris wheel placed in a ballpark, to the best of our knowledge. (It won’t be the last; we’re already hearing stories of other teams interested in a similar installation.) To say the Ferris wheel is popular is an understatement: even though Saturday night’s game ended before 9 p.m., fans at the game were queuing up for a ride until 11 p.m., and a steady stream of fans visited it over the rest of the weekend, even though the River Bandits were out of town Sunday and Monday.
Why a Ferris wheel? According to River Bandits owner Dave Heller, it fits within what he and co-owner Bob Herrfeldt are working to accomplish at Modern Woodmen Park: family-friendly entertainment.
“Why a Ferris wheel? Because it is the most family-friendly ride out there,” he said. “We have seen just in one weekend people from ages three months to 100 years old ride that Ferris wheel. I can’t think of any ride that can accommodate such a wide range of ages.
“This is the ride that families can ride together. We don’t just talk about being family friendly – that ethos impacts everything we do.”
Each year, it seems, we’re looking at a Ballpark Digest award to the River Bandits and Modern Woodmen Park for a ballpark improvement, whether it be upgraded seating options, the addition of a well-designed group area, or some other ballpark upgrade. Most team owners would be pretty happy with the installation of a Ferris wheel as the crowning achievement for a season, but Heller tends not to rest on his laurels. At Modern Woodmen Park, the emphasis is on repurposing dead space. Every ballpark has some, but the amount in Davenport will be decreased significantly by the end of the year.
Next on the agenda: a new group area in the left-field corner will feature the most unique seats in baseball — swivel seats developed by American Seating. (Yes, another reason to visit Modern Woodmen Park.) They look like normal stadium seats, but they’re mounted on a swivel and will rock back and forth as well as swiveling around: fans will always be facing exactly where they want to see on the playing field or scoreboard. This season will also see the installation of a new bar/overlook area in center field, where fans can belly up, watch the game and also observe life on the Mississippi River. A photo well next to the dugout will be converted to a new premium seating area, giving 18 lucky fans a chance to sit in padded seats close to the action. And, of course, there are more amusement rides set to be installed: a drop and twist, a carousel and a virtual-reality space camp.
If you go – and we heartily encourage you to do so – you’ll be faced with a big decision in where to sit in the hexagon-shaped gondola. Face forward and you’ll have a great view of downtown Davenport and the bluffs. Face backwards and you’ll have the Mississippi River right in front of you, complete with pelicans and the rest of the Quad Cities. Face toward the ballpark and you’ll have a lovely birds-eye view of Modern Woodmen Park, a view that especially resonates after sunset.
We’ve found the best operators are the ones committed to annual ballpark improvements: nothing shows love to fans like a new and exciting feature. The youngest member of our group, a precocious eight year old, told Dave Heller he was turning the ballpark into a carnival. That, he responded, was the point: to entertain fans.
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