DBAP renovation unfolding well, Bulls say

Dec. 26, 2013 @ 07:53 PM

The din of jackhammers has replaced the crack of bat on ball at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park this winter, as contractors work to finish what’s now looking like a $20 million renovation in time for the start of the 2014 baseball season.

Bulls officials say the result will be a stadium whose facilities are more clearly of a AAA standard and that offers fans a shorter wait for their food.

“After all these years, we know what our fans want, so we tried to take all those suggestions, complaints and comments and make sure we’re taking care of every one of those,” said Bulls General Manager Mike Birling.

The project leaves the basic structure of the stadium intact, but touches most of its fittings.

Everything from the scoreboard to the seats is getting a revamp as the Bulls prepare a stadium originally designed in the early 1990s for what was then an A-league franchise to host next year’s AAA all-star game.

The main focus, however, is on food service as the Bulls hope to halve the waiting times patrons typically have experienced at games.

Contractors are installing a new concession area on top of the stadium along the first-base side of the stands, about where the staircase from the concourse to the upper level used to open.

Down the third-base side, they’re putting in a new top-level picnic area.

And behind home plate, they’re relocating the press box and Bulls owner Jim Goodmon’s suite to make way for a new club area that can also be used for events when the team isn’t playing.

Two new kitchens are going in, one for the club area and one for the rest of the stadium.

The concession lines typical of the park since its opening in 1995 came because it was about “20 points of sale short for our average attendance,” Birling said.

And they were a problem because the DBAP lacks the sort of “open concourse” that at newer minor-league stadiums and some major league parks gives concession-goers a clear view of what’s happening on the field, he said.

Contractors have installed new lights and are now in the process of giving them the 100-hour “burn-in” the manufacturer recommends.

The field itself also is being replaced, workers taking care to go over it again and again to give it the proper “crown” so it drains properly after a storm. Weather permitting, they hope to lay the new sod on Monday and Tuesday.

The renovation was envisioned in the 20-year lease extension the city and Bulls officials signed earlier this year. The city as the stadium’s owner is putting up $12 million for it, with half going to maintenance items like the new lights and the rest toward new fittings the Bulls desire.

With the city’s share of the cost capped, the Bulls are putting up the rest. The lease obliged them to supply at least $2 million, but they’ll end up spending closer to $8 million thanks to additions to the project that even now aren’t quite settled.

Decisions are pending by the start of 2014 on things like the final design of the new stadium entrance that replaces a former picnic area in the left-field corner.

It has to do double duty as off-days outdoor seating for a restaurant that will occupy a portion of the new Diamond View III building next door, and may also include more concession stands. 

Birling said a group that includes Capitol Broadcasting Co. vice presidents George Habel, Dan McGrath and Michael Goodmon confers every Friday to review progress. Goodmon then briefs his father, Jim Goodmon.

Birling voiced confidence about finishing on time, even if a spate of bad weather throws off the work schedule. “Mid-February, come back and see if I’m panicking or not,” he quipped at the end of a recent tour of the project.