Rochester, Scranton Prepare For Renovation Season

DALLAS–The Rochester Red Wings have a bit of experience operating more than one team at a time. After all, the organization just completed its fourth season running the New York-Penn League’s Batavia franchise, saving Muckdogs from bankruptcy after the 2007 season.

Rochester will up the ante in 2012 when it serves as the main home away from home for fellow International League franchise Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which is set to play its entire home schedule on the road while its home ballpark gets a $40 million rebuild.

The SWB Yankees will play 37 of their “home” games at Frontier Field in Rochester, plus another seven in Batavia. Scranton will split its remaining games among four other International League parks.

Red Wings chairman Gary Larder said Rochester is busy preparing for life as a two-team town in 2012. To accommodate the Yankees, the Red Wings are converting their visitors clubhouse into a second home for Scranton, and they’ll use the smaller staff locker room as the visitors clubhouse. The new visitors clubhouse will be a bit small, Larder said, but it was the best alternative as the team helps Scranton out of a tough situation.

Rochester is paying for the renovations, and it will cover the expenses for all of its Scranton games, as well reaping all of the revenue from those games. It’s a risky proposition, Larder said, but one he believes has the potential to be profitable.

“If we draw 800 fans a night, we’re in trouble,” he said. “But if we bring in a couple thousand we should make a profit.”

One of the keys, Larder said, is drumming up new business and not simply attracting fans who would have otherwise come to Red Wings games anyway. Getting a group that makes it out to only one game a year to see the Yankees instead of the Red Wings is simply spreading around money and not bringing in new business, he said.

Plans are still being finalized for the new Scranton ballpark and should become public in the next month or so, said Craig Schmitt, principal for the architecture firm Ewing Cole. Construction is slated to begin in March, which allows 12 months for the project to be completed in time for Opening Day 2013. Schmitt said it will be a bit of a rush but the renovation should be completed with little hassle.

The $40 million project is financed by a $20 million state grant and $20 million from Lackawanna County, the majority of which comes from the proceeds of the $14.6 million sale of the team to SWB Yankees LLC—a partnership between the New York Yankees and Mandalay Baseball that currently operates the team. Roughly $28 million will go toward ballpark construction, which creates a rather tight budget with no room for overage. In addition to working with county officials, Schmitt said each meeting regarding ballpark construction has been attended by Mandalay Baseball and New York Yankees officials and that the group has worked cooperatively.

Judging by early renderings of the facility that Ewing Cole had on display at the Winter Meetings trade show, the ballpark could be spectacular. The existing PNC Field, which opened in 1989, is in a beautiful setting at the foot of Montage Mountain (and is actually in Moosic, Pa., rather than Scranton or Wilkes-Barre), though the park had become outdated.

The new park will feature a wraparound concourse that essentially cuts into Montage Mountain in the outfield. It will have a modern feel, with lots of glass, aluminum and steel instead of the brick design used at to create a retro feel at many new ballparks. There will of course be plenty of club seating and luxury suites, in addition to a multi-tiered picnic area and more group seating areas.

“The difference (from the current ballpark) is going to be night and day,” Schmitt said.