New Fenway-style Park Helps Revitalize Greenville




GREENVILLE, S.C.--Rebound relationships don't work, conventional wisdom says. But conventional wisdom has never seen, and certainly wouldn't have approved of, Greenville's spectacular new minor-league park, which kind of makes you wonder if conventional wisdom shouldn't just mind his own business.

The low Class A member of the Boston Red Sox family, now known as the Drive, and South Carolina's largest metropolitan area only met after they were dumped by somebody else in 2003. But the ensuing romance led to a quickie marriage, and now, three years later, we're hearing the pitter-patter of a little stadium that, with opening day looming on April 6, will become one of the most talked about in the minor leagues.

At the very least, it will be the most unique--ironically because of a striking lack of uniqueness.

Retro has been all the rage since Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992, and Drive co-owner and team president Craig Brown and his partners have fired the latest shot in the ballpark arms race by taking the term to a whole new level. You see, Greenville's new facility design wasn't merely inspired by the parent club's historic and legendary Fenway Park, it is Fenway Park. The parks are so identical that you could almost sit one playing surface on top of the other and have them fit perfectly--right down to the notch in deep center, the Pesky Pole a scant 302 feet from drooling left-handed batters and, of course, the matching 30-foot-high Green Monsters (complete with a manual scoreboard) 310 feet away from home in left.

Brown says that no single person can take credit for the idea, but once it was on the table everyone knew it was the correct one.

"(The design) wasn't the driving force, by any stretch, but you had a chance with a clean sheet of paper to do something fairly unique, so you might as well model it after something. And what better idea than to take Fenway Park and accentuate our Red Sox tie and create some more local interest," he said. "I mean, the Green Monster in Greenville? It all kind of ties together."

Picture Perfect

Gazing at the playing surface from behind home plate is surreal to anyone who has been to Fenway, and emulating perhaps the most famous baseball stadium on the planet instantly makes Greenville, buzzing itself at the idea of downtown baseball for the first time in 40 years, a must-visit for the legions of fans who make up the Red Sox Nation as well as for the large number of people who simply like to see parks in their free time.

But it hasn't been easy. In February of 2005, Minor League Baseball picked Brown's group over two others hoping to build stadiums in suburban corners of the county, and crews have been working 20-hour days since.

The DLR Group, based in Kansas City, did the heavy lifting, figuring out how to fit the idea onto the site. Project coordinators Bob Carlson and Tim Shellenberger made sure the field dimensions were true to history while also making sure the rest of the 5,700-seat park was as modern as it could be--which is good news for anyone who has ever been crammed into one of Fenway's undersized seats

Greenville Drive Stadium also has 18 money-generating luxury suites (14 of which have already been sold for the season), standard in this day and age, and the open concourse area is covered and less than 50 feet from the field.

"We've taken the best of the best and solved some of the issues that have been created by the 90-year-old age of Fenway Park," Brown said.

Rebuilding The Neighborhood

Don't be fooled into thinking that Greenville has totally sold its soul. In fact, everything else is as true to local heritage as it can be.

Home plate, for example, offers a sweeping view of the tall buildings that make up downtown, with 1,978-foot high Paris Mountain, a Greenville landmark, looming above them in the background. The main ticket booth was constructed inside the second-oldest fire station in Greenville County, and the entire stadium facade is made of more than 5,000 bricks salvaged from an old textile mill--the industry that fueled Greenville for decades.

Already, long-empty stores around the new stadium are already coming back to life, and a pair of buildings, one residential and one office and retail space, are being developed by Centennial American properties on the same stadium block and going up just behind Greenville's Green Monster.

Ultimately, Brown hopes, they'll give the stadium a Camden and Wrigley feel as well thanks to the brick exterior and the opportunity for residents to sit on their decks or on the roof and catch the baseball action.

"We're financially independent from the office buildings, but in how we envisioned it and how it's taken place we've really done it as a team," Brown said.

The Drive didn't have a very tough act to follow when they began work. The Greenville community was hungry for a team, any team, after the popular Greenville Braves had bolted for Pearl, Miss., in 2004, and creating something better than the charmless Greenville Memorial Stadium, the reason the Braves left to begin with, wasn't going to be a challenge.

But both parties were prepared to do much more than that. City officials eager to spark development in Greenville's historic but downtrodden West End had already purchased the site, while Brown and his associates were bursting with designs and finance plans after two years of unsuccessful wrangling with Columbia, S.C., to find a home for the now defunct Capital City Bombers.

The buzz in the city is immense as well. Besides 14 of the 18 suites being sold for the season, opening day is already sold out. An open house recently drew more than a thousand people to the park, and to further increase its visibility Furman and South Carolina will play a college game there this season. City officials also hope to lure the meandering and often poorly attended ACC tournament back to Greenville in the future.

"The stadium is just phenomenal," Greenville city manager Jim Bourey said. "It won't be the most expensive baseball stadium, but the design is really classic. … The attendance is going to be up very, very substantially because of the new ballpark."