Dehler Park could see big and small changes this year and beyond, as the new owners of the Billings Mustangs (rookie; Pioneer League) pitch the city on ballpark improvements.
Some of the changes are inevitable for 2015, like the installation of WiFi throughout the ballpark; this lets the team use mobile scanning at all gates and implement a new rewards system for fans. Other changes are necessary for maintenance reasons, such as repairs to the scoreboard and new padding to protect players on the field.
But other, bigger changes are already being discussed for 2016 and beyond. Interestingly, most of the changes were in the original Dehler Park design, a design that suffered through many rounds of value engineering before the ballpark opened in 2008 as the successor to historic Cobb Field. Some of the features are very doable, such as a center-field kids’ play area, while others will require some city investment. In general, the Montana and Billings economy is in much better shape than a few years ago, so talk of major additions to Dehler Park is being met with initial favorable responses. And the team’s 10-year lease ending in two years, now’s the time to map out the next lease as well as expectations on both sides.
The biggest change to the ballpark would be the addition of a community activity room, which would combine meeting space and a new suite space. The new space, which would be between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet, would add some sorely needed meeting space to downtown Billings. Main Street Baseball, which also owns the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low Class A; Midwest League) and two other MiLB, has implemented new group spaces at Modern Woodmen Park to great effect the past several years and want to do the same thing in Billings. That proposal met with initial approval from city leaders, per the Billings Gazette:
“We are lacking in meeting space and ballroom space,” said John Brewer, president and CEO of the Billings Chamber of Commerce, who also attended the meeting. “The neat thing about these items is that they were originally part of the design.”
Other improvements would increase circulation throughout the ballpark while adding casual spaces, per the Gazette:
A first-base covered group area, paid for by the Mustangs, could open as soon as 2016. Seats and bleachers along the concourse would be removed, and the area would be outfitted with big screens and oscillating fans — to keep the real fans cool. The right-field berm will remain.
In left field, a “natural gathering place” for fans, an activity area would have bar-top tables with some kind of covering — perhaps umbrella-style….
A party plaza near the home team’s clubhouse at Dehler Park could open in 2016, “but we will probably put it on the back burner,” said Bob Herrfeldt of Main Street Baseball. Since fans can’t see the game from this venue, it will be used for non-baseball events, including weddings and picnics. “In Davenport,” Herrfeldt said, “we do more special events than baseball games.”
A good chunk of this will depend on the team’s next lease. Right now, as it stands, the Mustangs are limited as to what they can do at the ballpark apart from baseball — concerts, for example, are off the list — and in many ways Dehler Park is a blank slate, with a large footprint and plenty of upside for cool things to upgrade the fan experience. But money talks, so much will depend on cost estimates and a new lease.
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