This is quite the commitment, going well beyond MLB-mandated improvements for MiLB facilities, as the West Michigan Whitecaps (High-A; Midwest League) unveiled a multiyear LMCU Ballpark renovation plan.
Virtually every corner of the ballpark will be touched by the renovation plan, with the Whitecaps and architect ROSETTI aiming to create a coherent look for the 30-year-old ballpark, which has been expanded in separate efforts in the last decade. The Whitecaps are financing and planning the renovations on their own dime, as the ballpark is privately owned.
“This ballpark is full of history, championships, and memories for so many West Michigan families, including my own,” said Joe Chamberlin, Whitecaps CEO and Managing Partner, via press release. “Our primary objective in leading this franchise has always been to ensure that we are growing our fan base and that we are preparing to meet the needs of the next generation of Whitecaps fans, just as we have done for fans over the last 30 years. Once complete, this project will deliver the venue that the ‘best minor league sports market in the country’ deserves and will ensure that LMCU Ballpark remains a top tier facility, both locally and nationally, for Whitecaps games, concerts, and special events for decades to come.”
The project will be divided into phases, with Phase 1 construction work beginning in just a few months to be completed prior to Opening Day 2024. All phases of the project are expected to be fully completed in roughly five years, based on baseball schedules, construction timelines and securing needed support and required approvals for future phases from Plainfield Township.
“Bringing all phases of this project to completion is going to be a heavy lift for our organization and ownership group,” Chamberlin said. “We are incredibly confident that our track record of success will help us secure the community stakeholder support we will need from the township and other partners to make all future phases of this reimagine a reality for the West Michigan community.”
The inspiration for the overall design, according to the team, comes from familiar lakeshore and beach town mainstays such as boardwalks, dune and beach grass, exposed beams, and outdoor social gathering spaces.
Phase 1 work will begin in the spring of 2023 and will be completed prior to the Whitecaps’ 2024 season. This phase focuses on player-facing improvements, which are driven by facility standard requirements set by Major League Baseball, and group hospitality experiences. It includes revamped player amenities to better develop the next generation of Detroit Tigers, completely overhauling the player experience for future Whitecaps. Player-facing improvements include both the home and visitor clubhouses and the playing surface, in addition to the stadium lighting upgrade that was completed last fall.
- The third base side visitors’ clubhouse will be completely rebuilt and will become the home clubhouse, as the Whitecaps and visiting teams switch sides. The new home clubhouse will offer enhanced player spaces, larger weight room and training facilities, dedicated space for female coaching staff, and a state-of-the-art batting tunnel attached to the home clubhouse.
- The grass and infield playing surface will be fully replaced, including the drainage system. Bullpens will be moved behind the right field wall, and the outfield dimensions will be reconfigured to closely match the angles players will see when they reach the Major Leagues.
- Stadium lights were upgraded last fall to brighter, precisely focused LED lights with less glare and less light pollution. The new lights are capable of colored light shows synced to music for dramatic entertainment during and after games as well as special events.
Phase 1 will also completely revitalize the group hospitality experience at LMCU Ballpark with the construction of a new suite-level club space and expanded and upgraded group terraces on what is now the first and third base lawn areas.
- A brand-new suite-level club space will be built above the new batting tunnel at the end of the third base structure, accommodating 200 guests for use on gamedays as well as year-round for special events. The space includes floor-to-ceiling windows, a large balcony for outdoor viewing, various height table and chair clusters, and a bar space for food and beverage service. Its capacity is similar to that of the current Pepsi Stadium Club.
- Enlarged group space takes over the existing lawn slopes on both the first and third base sides, replacing the current hospitality areas down the lines. Several tiers of seating and gathering areas, from the concourse all the way down to field level, offer a variety of engagement opportunities and food service options for groups of 20 or more. These tiers offer a more cohesive look and feel while allowing flexibility for groups of all sizes to enjoy private areas. The third base side will feature four tiers, while the first base side includes three tiers and will adjoin the new bullpens.
- For increased fan safety, the netting will be extended beyond the ends of the dugouts, where it currently ends, and go from foul pole to foul pole.
“LMCU Ballpark continues to be a popular destination for summer outings and social gatherings,” Whitecaps President Steve McCarthy said via press release. “The additional hospitality spaces will allow us to accommodate even more groups and provide more unique offerings than ever before. Each space will have its own character and distinctive seating layout, including ample space for casual gathering.”
While the existing lawn areas will be replaced with the tiered hospitality areas, fans who enjoy viewing a Whitecaps game from the grass will still have that opportunity. A new lawn space will be created above the bullpens in the outfield, offering a view of both the game and the action in the bullpens below.
Fans attending games and events at LMCU Ballpark during the 2023 season will notice that the concourse third base barbeque area will be fenced off and closed to accommodate groundwork for Phase 1 construction.
Phase 2 will include construction projects in 2025 and beyond, building on LMCU Ballpark’s 30 years of history by completely overhauling the stadium and preparing it for a new generation of Whitecaps fans. Features of future projects include:
- A reimagined ballpark entrance experience that offers a view of the baseball field straight ahead as fans reach the top of the steps.
- Exterior site activation for more entertainment options in the spaces outside the facility.
- Beautification of the facility’s 45 acres, all conforming to the beach theme.
- A fully reimagined and updated suite level with a home plate club area.
- An expanded concourse with new and improved food, entertainment and gathering options, including the construction of private outdoor suites for groups that prefer the great outdoors.
- A new CapSized Shop retail space and new ticket office.
- A new 360-degree concourse, modeled after a lakeshore style boardwalk, that allows fans to walk all the way around the field, enjoy gathering spaces in the outfield area and view the game from a number of different perspectives.
- A state-of-the-art 400-seat center field hospitality club and special events center, the ballpark’s largest space yet, that will provide a new level of gameday experience while also creating one of West Michigan’s most unique views for weddings, conferences, and other large scale special events.
“This venue has always been one of the best in Minor League Baseball, and we have maintained it incredibly well over the last 30 years,” Chamberlin said. “But there is nothing like a NEW ballpark, and that’s what we are committed to delivering to West Michigan. When this project is completed, LMCU Ballpark will look and feel like a brand-new facility ready to meet the needs of a new generation of fans. It’s going to be FUN to see how this community responds to work we have planned; I think they are going to love it.”
“ROSSETTI is honored to partner with the Whitecaps organization to reimagine a West Michigan destination: LMCU Ballpark,” said Kirk Phillips, a ROSSETTI partner leading the project, via press release. “These design renovations will enhance the experience for baseball fans and players alike, creating new social spaces and addressing player facilities to exceed MLB standards. When completed, the improved ballpark will surprise and delight this great community for many future seasons. It was important to us to go above and beyond when reimagining LMCU Ballpark because it is so well-known in the industry as a top-notch facility. We feel the improvements to this unique facility will be impressive at any professional level.”
West Michigan-based Erhardt Construction is the general contractor, and Progressive AE is assisting with several aspects of the project.