Renovated stadium provides first-class venue for All-Star game

Jul. 10, 2014 @ 10:50 AM

Already bearing an iconic name and a solid organizational reputation in minor league baseball circles, the Durham Bulls also have prepared their best surroundings for the Triple-A All-Star game.
The $20 million renovation of Durham Bulls Athletic Park wasn’t totally completed when the Bulls opened their International League season back on April 3. Crews have continued work on unopened concession areas and unfinished luxury suites over the first two months of the season.
But with the All-Star festivities set to begin July 12 leading up to the July 16 game, the ballpark is in prime condition and has never looked better as it prepares to host a national event.
“Everything has been running since early June,” Bulls general manager Mike Birling said. “Compared to the first couple of weeks of the season, things are going great. We are definitely at the place where we thought we would be. Now it’s a matter of carrying things over to the All-Star Game.”
The unusually nasty winter weather in January, February and March created hurdles to getting the project done in time for opening day on April 3. That meant crews worked around the clock as the season approached. Last minute inspections were part of the process.
After the Bulls played their first homestand, the new PNC Triangle Club and many of the luxury suites were torn up for additional work before they were completed once again.
Over the last four weeks, baseball fans in the Triangle have enjoyed visiting a minor-league park with many big-league amenities.
The renovations are the largest since the DBAP opened in 1995.
The most noticeable thing is the expanded video board that dominates the 32-foot Blue Monster wall in left field. At 28 feet high and 62 feet wide, it is three times larger than the board the Bulls used last season.
The sound system was dramatically improved with speakers all over the ballpark. A total of 145 speakers have been installed.
The players have benefitted from the new playing surface and improved lighting system. At the end of last season, some players complained about dark spots, including near home plate.
That’s no longer the case as players, like Durham’s 2013 All-Star first baseman Vince Belnome, say the lighting is at least twice as good as previously.
Birling sought to use local companies when he could for the ballpark improvements. Durham’s Cree provided 3.2 million of its LED bulbs for all the new video boards.
Cree’s technology isn’t yet applicable for baseball stadium lights, Birling said. Cree can light soccer and football stadiums and the company has closed a deal with Duke to provide LED lighting for Jack Katz Stadium, the East Campus home for Duke’s field hockey team.
The DBAP’s playing surface and drainage system was completely removed and replaced over the winter. The drainage system will be able to handle seven inches of water per hour.
The playing surface, covered with Tifway 419 Bermuda Grass, sits atop gravel and sand sub-layers and is considered Major League quality.
The last time the DBAP housed a national minor-league event was in 2012 when the Triple-A National Championship Game was held here. Around three inches of rain fell that night as the game was played in soggy conditions on the old playing surface.
While that game was completed satisfactorily, the new playing surface and drainage system would be able to handle even more rain -- should Mother Nature send it.
In the seating area, all the seats were removed in the offseason and replaced with seats featuring higher backs and longer seat planes.
Spectators have a larger array of concession options with new stands featuring all-digital menu boards.
“We needed more concession stands,” Birling said. “We needed more diversity in our food items. We just kept hearing that over and over again. Too many lines. So we expanded concessions in the lower level.”
In the main concourse, Birling said, the Bulls clustered stadium staples like hot dogs, popcorn, beer and soda together. The goal is get lines moving faster.
Specialty food items, like fish, barbecue or Mexican, are down the first and third base lines. Those landing areas featuring 10,000 square feet of concession areas and allow fans to keep an eye on the game while making their food and beverage choices.
“It is so much more spacious,” Birling said.
What the Bulls consider the crown jewel of their improvements is the new PNC Triangle Club seating area located directly behind home plate. Patrons have a full glass view of the field and a private bar along with easy outdoor access into the stands.
The Triangle Club is more than 5,000 square feet of space which allows its ticket holders the option of watching in air-conditioned comfort or sitting outside.
The club and the city agreed to a new lease agreement last year that keeps the team in downtown Durham for at least 20 more years. The renovations were part of that agreement.
As the Triple-A baseball world descends on Durham this month, the Bulls and the city have provided a top-notch stadium to house the All-Star Game.