With the final bureaucratic hurdles cleared and a budget of $60.8 million finalized, it's time to turn to the most interesting part of a new El Paso Triple-A ballpark: the design.
You may know the backstory: El Paso businesspeople, in the form of MountainStar Sports Group, bought the Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and worked with the city on funding for a new downtown ballpark. (The four principals with MountainStar Sports Group: Woody and Josh Hunt, Paul Foster and Alejandra de la Vega Foster.) The location -- on the City Hall site -- and funding mechanism were contested, both in public hearing and in state and federal courthouses. The challenges failed to stop the project. When it was apparent more funding was needed, MountainStar Sports proposed a lease amendment to cover the $12.1 million in additional spending.
To say the entire process has been challenging is an understatement, and building the actual ballpark is proving to be as equally challenging, says David Bower, Senior Architect/Principal at Kansas City-based Populous. The ballpark footprint is small, forcing the site to be expanded onto three of the neighboring streets. That's also resulting in some funky angles, a vertical orientation and lots of unique spaces in an asymmetric layout.
"The architecture itself is reflected from existing buildings," Bower said. "The nearby rail station is a prominent landmark, and we're playing off the old red-brick design and copper-colored roof with the ballpark." Designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burham, the El Paso Union Depot opened in 1906 and has been a gathering spot in downtown El Paso ever since.
Within the ballpark, fans will be treated to an intimate, asymmetric and vertical facility broken down into plenty of discrete seating areas -- an approach Bower called the creation of "neighborhoods" in the facility. It's not new (the very successful Parkview Field, a Populous project for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is practically defined by its neighborhoods in the seating bowl), but it's an effective approach to ballpark design. Instead of feeling like you're just one of 6,000 fans in the ballpark, the seating will be arranged so you feel like you're part of a smaller group of fans, even if you're at the ballpark on your own.
In addition, officials with MountainStar Sports worked hard to make sure their values and goals matched with the ballpark design. That means creating a family-friendly environment, and that also means integrating the ballpark smoothly with the surrounding neighborhood. There will be an area outside the ballpark gates for fans to watch a game -- similar to what the San Francisco Giants did in right field at AT&T Park -- and an open design, with plenty of outside views of the playing field. Of course, that orientation goes both ways: Because the ballpark has a strong vertical orientation, there should be some outstanding views of the surrounding vistas, especially at sundown.
"There will be some great views of the mountains, and the club seats will overlook the downtown," Bower said. "The ballpark will be linked to the downtown entertainment district as well.
"The team ownership is very, very set on making a statement with that facility and across the border as well," Bower added.
Also involved in this design: MountainStar Sports Group President Alan Ledford, formerly of the Sacramento River Cats (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), where he served as president and GM. (Former Trenton and Bowling Green GM Brad Taylor joined MountainStar on May 16.) While Ledford worked mainly on the business side during his stint with the River Cats, he's been intimately involved with the design process.
"When I first met with the ownership group, the first question I had was what they were going to do to improve the quality of life in El Paso," Ledford said. "As it turns out, they, along with the civic leaders, had a clear vision of how the ballpark could improve life in El Paso.
"You can measured this in two ways: from an objective viewpoint and a subjective one," he continued. "A ballpark can create an aura and pump the psyche of a region that other venues can't. We see that as part of the vision and part of our responsibility to the community -- the fun that it represents, the asset that the team and the ballpark become to the business community, having another entertainment vehicle at their disposal when attracting new business to the region. On a variety of levels, we're already seeing an impact from the ballpark."
One other party had some significant input into the ballpark design: officials with the San Diego Padres, parent team to the Padres. Normally you don't see a parent team quite so involved with the design of a minor-league affiliate, but reps from the team turned out to the groundbreaking, and Ledford says they've provided plenty of input to the ballpark design.
"Our relationship with the Padres has been great," Ledford said. "We've integrated them into the design side, especially on the baseball side. They're the users of the ballpark, and they want to see the best, most efficient environment for the players. Every step of the way they're been involved."
There are mighty big expectations for this ballpark: "The whole ballpark design is about creating that new image of downtown El Paso," Bower said. It's a tall order, based more on civic pride than a bottom-line approach.
"The Hunts and the Fosters are focused on improving the quality of life in El Paso," Ledford says. "Ultimately, with the design of the ballpark, our goal is to provide something for everyone. Big or small, our goal is a great experience for everyone. It's not just about the baseball. It's about the entertainment and creating that great experience for everyone, regardless of what they're looking for."
Renderings courtesy Populous.
RELATED STORIES: Increased spending approved for new El Paso ballpark; El Paso breaks ground on new ballpark; El Paso City Hall goes down, making way for new ballpark; El Paso to set up corporation to oversee ballpark construction, management; Populous lands El Paso ballpark design contract; City, Diablos talking end of Cohen Stadium lease; Voters approve El Paso hotel/motel tax for new ballpark; El Paso ballpark debate enters final stretch; El Paso: ballpark will happen with or without hotel tax; El Paso: No federal issues at play in ballpark lawsuit; MountainStar Sports takes control of Tucson Padres; El Paso ballpark foes file suit in federal court to shut down project; MountainStar Sports buys Tucson Padres; Opponents: El Paso ballpark debate not over; Mayor won't veto ballpark lease; PCL to El Paso in 2014; El Paso ballpark approval squeaks through; PCL approves move of T-Padres to El Paso -- if lease approved
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