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Wichita's New Triple-A Ballpark Is Ahead Of The Curve

When Wichita’s new ballpark opens in 2020, it will have many of the signifiers of a Triple-A ballpark built for the future. The concourses are large and wide. Not only will that ensure that fans don’t feel cramped during the flow in and out of the ballpark, but it also provides flexibility to allow the team to move in and out mobile concession stands as needed.

And where a park built even a decade ago might focus on fixed seats and a grassy berm, new minor league (and major league) ballparks focus on providing a lot of different viewing options. There will be plenty of tabletops (called terrace tables in this case) for fans who want to sit and watch with friends who may want to stand. There will be picnic areas as well as the berms and a party deck for fans who want to mingle in the outfield.

And as you would expect, there will be plenty of club seating as well with luxury boxes. The new Wichita park, slated to open in 2020 to house the Pacific Coast League franchise currently in New Orleans, is expected to have a little more than 6,000 fixed seats, but the capacity of the park will rise above 10,000 once other areas are factored.

But a lot of what makes a new ballpark different from an older one are things that will never be apparent to the average fan. Underneath the stands, the space teams need for the players, coaches and other personnel.

“I was involved in designing minor league facilities in 1991-92,” said Tom Tingle, senior associate for DLR Group architecture and project leader for the Wichita ballpark. “Back then, you were grabbing your hair (thinking), ‘Can we meet the (Professional Baseball Agreement) standards?’

“(Now) you are so far beyond the baseball standards in designing these minor league ballparks. Once, players were lucky to have food before and after the game on a table outside or inside the locker room. Now there are nutritionists. They are predicting eight or nine coaches for the Wichita club. That means the coaches’ locker room doubles in size.”

The new PBA that will arrive for the 2021 season will likely call for significantly larger allowances for all the staffing needed for a modern minor league team. There are now needs for video rooms, additional coaches and strength and conditioning departments.

All of these are new additions since the PBA was last largely revamped years ago.

But for new parks like Wichita, those items have already been designed into the ballpark in advance of any PBA requirements.

“There’s a covered batting cage down at the locker room level. We’re not providing it just for the home team,” Tingle said. “There’s a much larger training area for the visiting team, and a lounge for the visitor’s clubhouse as well.

“That’s the way the game is going. It hasn’t been realized in the PBA (yet). It’s coming and they are pushing it down through all the levels of the minors.”

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There are plenty of touches for a modern ballpark that are visible to the average fan.

“A lot of these facilities, instead of fixed seating, what you’re getting is a lot of flexible hospitality areas that give different experiences for a more diverse fanbase,” Tingle said. “The event on the field is the same, but the experience is very different. There are flexible areas that allow for the team to hit those different types of individuals.”

The idea is to allow fans who don’t want to be planted in one spot can wander around the 360-degree concourse, stopping at times to take in the game from different angles.

The goal in designing a ballpark is to make it feel large enough to handle a packed crowd for a July 4 fireworks night, but also not be too big where a smaller crowd on a cold April evening feels lost in space.

“That’s a real delicate balance to figure out how to provide the space without being cavernous,” Tingle said.

The Wichita park is on a tight schedule. The groundbreaking and the first concrete was poured just 13 months before the targeted date of Opening Day 2020.

Opening Date: 2020
Architects: Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey & DLR Group
Builder: JE Dunn

Cost: Estimated at $75 million

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