The Buffalo Bisons announced tonight they are embarking on a multi-year renovation plan at Coca-Cola Field, with Phase I consisting of the installation of 3,700 new seats in the special reserved sections from dugout to dugout.
The new green seats will be 22 inches wide, an increase of 3 inches from the current red seats. The project will begin the day after the team’s season ends, be it in the regular season or playoffs, and will take 2-3 months. The city will be footing the $758,000 bill.
Jonathan Dandes, president of Rich Baseball Operations, said the team hopes to unveil its master plan for the ballpark in the next couple of months. Populous, the Kansas City-based firm that built the park from 1986-88, is currently finalizing its recommendations.
The team has not specified its wish list but Dandes confirmed one item will be replacing all 17,000-plus seats in the ballpark, which has a capacity of 18,025 when party areas are included.
“It’s not only just the seats. It’s everywhere else in the ballpark,” Dandes said. “Everything is on the table, including a retractable roof over the party deck to a renovation of our suites to dugouts suites, concession stands and fan amenities.”
“It’s an even more critical investment and destination for the city with more traffic coming from across the Peace Bridge,” said Mayor Byron Brown, referring to the club’s affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays. “. ... We need to make sure we’re making the proper investments so that the fan experience is a good one, so that the fans keep coming back and enjoy the kind of experience they deserve and we all want them to have.”
The Bisons also have numerous infrastructure items that need upgrading in the 26-year-old facility.
“After 26 years, it’s doing great but it’s still 26 years old,” Dandes said of the park. “A lot of the money we need to spend right now are things our fans would never see: Electrical issues and plumbing issues and air conditioning issues. That’s infrastructre of things we need to address. But what comes next are concession stands, our suite areas, party deck and all of the party areas we hope to create.”
Dandes said the team is working on ticketing options for the new seats and current season ticket-holders and that capacity of seats will be reduced some. Still, the total capacity once new party areas are constructed will stay roughly the same.
The team has studied ways to reduce capacity and increase ticket demand for seats for the last couple of years to bring the facility in line with Triple-A stadiums around the country. Coca-Cola Field has been the largest minor-league facility since it opened in 1988 with a capacity of 19,500.
Only three other parks in the 14-team International League are even over 12,000 -- Indianapolis’ Victory Field (14,230) Louisville’s Slugger Field (13,131), and Norfolk’s Harbor Park (12,067).
In fact, the four most recent ballparks built in the league since 2009 (Lehigh Valley, Columbus, Gwinnett and Charlotte) all have capacities around 10,000.
So while a crowd of 8,000 would be upwards of 70-80 percent of capacity in most places in the league, it leaves the Bisons playing in a half-empty stadium. The team thus does a large percentage of its sales with walkup crowds, and can have its gate seriously affected by rain a couple of hours before the first pitch or even by a negative weather forecast.
In theory, people who purchase tickets in advance will still come to the park and use them regardless of the weather in the event the game is actually played.
Reducing capacity has become a tool in the major leagues as well. The Colorado Rockies took out acres in seats in the upper deck of Coors Field this season and replaced them with party areas and the Cleveland Indians announced a similar project last week that will do likewise at 20-year-old Progressive Field.