Ballpark Digest

Thursday, Apr 17th

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You are here: Minor League Visits Arvest Ballpark / Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Arvest Ballpark / Northwest Arkansas Naturals

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Arvest Ballpark is a ballpark that proudly eschews the trends in ballpark design over the last decade. There are no retro qualities to Arvest Ballpark: it's thoroughly modern, featuring lots of glass and no exposed steel.

FAST FACTS

Year Opened: 2008
Capacity: 5,500
Cost: $50 million for entire project, including road work
Owner: City of Springdale, Arkansas
Naming Rights: Ten-year deal with Arvest Bank Group
Architect: HOK
Construction:Crossland Construction
Dimensions: 325L, 400C, 325R
Playing Surface: Grass
Website: nwanaturals.com
Phone: 479/927-4900
League: Texas League
Level: Class AA
Parent: Kansas City Royals
Parking: There are over 1,500 spots next to the ballpark going for $3, with additional overflow parking nearby.
Address/Directions: 56th St. and Watkins Av., Springdale, Ark. From I-71, take the 412 (Sunset Av.) exit and head west. Turn south on 56th Street and continue south, going through Watkins Avenue at the ballpark. There are plenty of signs pointing the way to the ballpark.

Though most of the ballpark was completed, there was still a largely unfinished feel to Arvest Ballpark on opening night. It's not that the Northwest Arkansas Naturals were behind in making sure things worked -- they did, perhaps a little smoother than the average ballpark opening -- but there's an unsettled and unfinished quality to the area surrounding the ballpark, as well as some large open areas within the ballpark walls just screaming for tents, party areas and other fan offerings.

This is a ballpark that proudly eschews the trends in ballpark design over the last decade. There are no retro qualities to Arvest Ballpark: it's thoroughly modern, featuring lots of glass and no exposed steel. Forget about a downtown and urban location: the ballpark is located in agricultural territory, surrounded by working farms. (In fact, grazing cattle have a great view of the action.) The seating bowl sports a circular design we haven't seen in years. And it's surely one of the most understated new ballparks we've visited in the past five years: no firepits or giant loon nests here.

So, there's not a lot of flash here. But Arvest Ballpark is a solid effort, though we suspect it will please the staff of the Naturals and players a little more than fans, at least in the first several years before the area around the ballpark is built up.

UNDER THE HOOD
Behind the scenes is where Arvest Ballpark shines. This is the first ballpark we've visited where windows intrude in the clubhouses. Usually clubhouses are buried deep in the bowels of a ballpark -- talk about the ultimate man cave -- but at Arvest Ballpark the clubhouses are located at ground level, allowing windows to be installed in the home player lounge, spacious workout room and hydrotherapy room, as well as the batting cages. An entrance next to the batting cages could be used for VIP and group access to the community room, giving fans a chance to watch batting practice.

Similarly, behind the scenes are other features designed to make the ballpark a year-round facility. A sponsored community room, located off the main concourse, opens to a terrace outside the ballpark linking up to the main entrance. This allows for the community room to be opened even if the ballpark is closed.

A MODERN DESIGN
We toured the ballpark before opening night with HOK Sport's Martin DiNitto, who pointed out the many unique features in Arvest Ballpark. The most obvious was the embrace of a modern design instead of the retro look so associated with HOK. "We always enjoy it when a client doesn't want a retro ballpark," he said with a smile, noting the extensive glass integration on the suite level. Take a close look at the photo above: the corner suite features glass -- both clear and opaque -- on the front and the side, and the cool colors are a nice contrast to the dark green and blues you find in most ballparks.

Speaking of the suites: they are larger than you find in most new minor-league parks. The outdoor seats have individual armrests, something DiNitto thinks will be found more in suites. "People in suites expect their seats to be nicer," he says. Four panels slide from four into one and the door can be propped open, dramatically opening up the suite. There are 25 suites in the ballpark, but the suite level can be expanded down each line to accommodate additional suites or open party areas.

The canopy above the suite level is also a modern touch; canopies are also used to provide shelter at the ticket entrances as well.

"We were amazed features like the canopy made it through the bidding process and survived," DiNitto says. "Normally you lose some things like that, but what we saved on steel and concrete we applied to things like the canopy and the stonework." They serve a practical purpose of sheltering the suite outdoor seating, much of the bowl and the concourses, but their greatest impact is aesthetic: Arvest Ballpark is best viewed at night, and the dramatic lighting under the canopy adds much to that cool atmosphere, as you can see in the photo at the top of the page.

FOR THE FANS
Of course, there's plenty for fans to embrace at the ballpark besides the design. Most won't notice how unique the seating bowl is, but they'll love the angles when they sit down the lines. You used to see a lot of circular bowls in older ballpark, but they went the way of the dinosaur in favor of horseshoe and U-shaped designs that were easier and cheaper to build. (Nat Bailey Stadium is a good example of an old-fashioned circular design in a minor-league park; of course, most of the cookie-cutter ballparks like Oakland Coliseum were circular as well.) Advances in steel manufacturing allowed for the return of a circular bowl in a minor-league club; because the steel could be curved to specific angles, it also made pouring concrete in the bowl easier -- and cheaper.

One of the criticisms of circular design is that fans can be located far from the action, but that's not the case at Arvest Ballpark; the seating bowl is intimate, so you never feel too far from the action.

Arvest Ballpark is a facility designed for the restless. Concourses are 40 feet wide between the bases: there's a standard 30-foot-wide concourse and another 10 feet (at least) to the concessions and outbuildings. (Of course, you can do this sort of thing when your ballpark site is 40 acres.) The spaciousness extends to the outfield, where there's a lot of space between the concourse walkway and the ballpark fence.

In fact, there may be too much space here. Opening night featured a large crowd -- 7,820 -- so there was a lot of energy in the ballpark. But we're guessing crowds like that won't be the case all season long. When there's a crowd of 4,000, there's going to be the potential that the ballpark won't feel filled, and the Naturals will probably face the task of trying to keep crowds excited. But what we saw opening night won't be how the ballpark is run in a month, we're guessing, as there were no operating portable concession stands in the concourse (leading to some ungodly lines at the four concession stands).

Northwest Arkansas is an interesting area right now. Earlier we referred to the fact that leaders didn't ask for a retro ballpark, which isn't a surprise: this is an area focused on building for the future, and we don't see a lot of evidence of working to hearken to the past. The ballpark site was once an arbor and then a vineyard, but those industries have been largely displaced by the poultry industry -- Tyson is a prominent sponsor and employer in the region, and members of the Tyson family are planning new development next to the ballpark. In homage to the area (one of the few in the ballpark) DiNitto says the ballpark concourse is an oval -- specifically, an ovoid in the shape of an egg. It's clever, but we're guessing most fans won't notice.

In another nice design tough, an alcove in left field will be available for concerts and pre/postgame events. Currently the space is used to store groundskeeping equipment, but a special trailer currently used in Buffalo's Dunn Tire Park will be used for special events.

Several seat options are available. In an unusual move -- at least for a ballpark in affiliated ball -- there is a picnic area behind home plate, in an area usually reserved for season-ticket holders. Twenty-eight picnic tables are available for groups or individuals. You normally don't see group areas in such prime real estate, but DiNitto says it's a logical move: per caps from groups are three to four times more than from season-ticket holders, and groups will show up no matter what the weather conditions are.

The other group area is the Bullpen Cafe in left field, which features five rows of picnic tables overlooking the field and the visitors' bullpen, as well as a freestanding concession building.

Four concession stands are located on the concourse. The offerings are fairly limited: burgers/cheeseburgers ($4.25), breaded chicken sandwich ($4.50), fries ($2.50), BBQ pulled pork ($5), hot dogs, candy, chicken rings and quesadillas. The beer selections are limited to Bud, Bud Light, Shiner Bock and Miller Lite ($4/$5.50).

PARKING
There is plenty of parking going for $3 next to the ballpark. The big issue is access: there are only two-lane roads leading to the ballpark, leading to a traffic jam (we're guessing) never seen before in Springdale. It was so bad, as a matter of fact, that Kansas City Royals owner David Glass was late to the ballpark's opening ceremonies because he was stuck in traffic. Until the local roads are upgraded and another freeway entrance added (the request to the state has been made), plan to come early to the ballpark to avoid a mess.

IN THE END
As we've made pretty clear, Arvest Ballpark is still a work in progress. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals clearly have plans to add things like freestanding concession stands to the concourse, and offerings for kids were limited to a center-field play area because bad weather prevented inflatables from being set up in the outfield. A center-field entrance won't be used until the surrounding area is developed.

And, we're guessing the ultimate feel of the ballpark will be shaped by what happens in the area. There are plans to develop most of the land between the freeway and the ballpark, and there are tentative plans for a 8,000-10,000-seat arena next door. When that happens, the ballpark site won't feel quite so remote. While Arvest Ballpark is certainly worth a visit today, we're excited to watch how the facility evolves with the rest of the Springdale community.