DBAP to show off new look at Thursday's opener
Posted March 31
Durham, N.C. — The newest social hotspot in Durham opens Thursday.
With a renewed emphasis on the gameday experience and entertainment, the 18-year-old Durham Bulls Athletic Park broke ground on over $20 million worth of renovations as soon as the last pitch was hurled in September.
Fans will get to see the result when the Bulls begin the 2014 season Thursday at 6 p.m. (620 The Buzz) against the Gwinett Braves. Gates open at 5 p.m.
“These renovations are really a culmination of fan comments and season ticket holder comments and things we have noticed over the years,” said Mike Birling, Durham Bulls general manager. “There is nowhere that they are going to go where they don’t notice something different, which is fun.”
Changes start at the front entrance, which has lost the gates but gained a grand facade. On the concourse, nearly a dozen new concessions options have been added. Overlooking the field of play, just a few of the additions include a new picnic-style seating area in the right field corner, an expanded pavilion with a full-service bar along the right field line, a brand new club level behind home plate, a taqueria in left and enhanced social seating just over the right field wall.
“We tried to create other larger areas in different places so not everyone hangs out in the concourse waiting on food,” Birling said. “I think we have pretty much touched every part of the ballpark with something new and I think the fans are really going to be surprised and excited when they see it.
And for all the traditional upgrades, the overhaul did not skimp on technology either.
An enhanced WiFi integration will allow up to 8,000 simultaneous users – up from fewer than 2,000 a year ago at a stadium that seats 10,000. New speakers have been installed in the outfield so the patrons behind home plate will no longer be deafened at the expense of their cheap-seat brethren. And there are more than 4,100 square feet of brand new, state-of-the-art HD video boards highlighted by a 2,048 square foot screen on the Blue Monster in left field.
“The video boards, in my mind, are just to enhance the experience and that’s what they are going to be used for,” Birling said. “Technology is a big part of the experience of fans now with social media and all of that, We want to create that, but we still want to be minor league baseball with our promotions and fun.”
The field of play itself is a brand new surface, the light banks are new and with the addition of the scoreboards, the dimensions of the field have even changed with the centerfield and rightfield walls coming in a few feet.
Plus, the Bulls will be wearing new-look uniforms unveiled this winter.
Cost and Impact
In May, the city of Durham and the Bulls agreed on a lease that will keep the baseball team in the DBAP through the 2033 season and have the team assume all operating costs. The deal is expected to save the city $10 million over the life of the contract, but initially, Durham would be on the hook for $12 million - $6 million in deferred funds and $6 million for general stadium improvements.
The renovations, which will exceed $20 million, used the $12 million from the city with the Bulls supplying the rest.
“From our end, we didn’t really have a set budget,” Birling said. “We just signed a new 30-year lease with the City of Durham and the whole point of that is to make sure this place is still looking like the incredible ballpark that it is for the next 30 years and I think we’ve accomplished that with these renovations.”
Time and money were also lost due to a particularly cold and wet winter. Crews lost over 50 work days because of snow and low temperatures that prevented certain projects such as the pouring of concrete. With opening day Thursday, however, crews have been working around the clock to get the final pieces in place.
While the stadium will not be in All-Star Game shape on opening day, fans can still expect a noticeable transformation and the idea of a finished product. When the national lights do come on at DBAP for the Triple-A Mid-Summer Classic, the stadium will undoubtedly be ready, however.
“We are trying to set ourselves up for big events like the ACC Tournament and the All-Star Game,” Birling said. “Now it’s just a matter of getting the games started and operationally getting used to all the changes.”
The Durham Bulls host the Gwinnett Braves Thursday at 6 p.m. (620 The Buzz). Gates open at 5 p.m.