By Aaron Blevins, 1/10/2013
Dodgers unveil plan for major upgrades
Following the arrival of new owners Guggenheim Partners, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ roster has been revamped, upgraded and altered. Now, the club’s historic, 51-year-old stadium is on deck.
Actually, it’s in the batter’s box, as construction has begun with the hope that the renovations will be completed by the Dodgers’ first exhibition game on March 28, the club’s president, Stan Kasten, said during a press conference on Jan. 8. It was announced on Wednesday that the Dodgers will play their first exhibition game of the season at 6:05 p.m. on March 28 at The Epicenter in Rancho Cucamonga.
“As much as we wanted to do, we only had 24 or 25 weeks … to get it all done,” he said. “We had to make some choices, draw some lines and make some decisions on what we wanted to do and get done by Opening Day.”
As Kasten reiterated several times, the project is “ambitious.” The Dodgers will replace the stadium’s scoreboards, install Wi-Fi, upgrade its sound system, widen its concourses, enhance training and conditioning areas, add restrooms and more.
Janet Marie Smith, the Dodgers’ vice president of planning and development, said the club will be replacing its old scoreboards with new high-resolution and high-definition video boards. They are hexagon-shaped like the original scoreboards from the 1960s.
Smith said the scoreboards will be the first 1080-millimeter boards with an all-outdoor display in Major League Baseball. Their size will increase by 22 percent, while the viewing image will be 66 percent larger.
“We’ll be able to use these boards with a great deal of flexibility, and we’ll be counting on our control room to help provide fans with the kind of information that they’re used to seeing at home,” Smith said.
Dodger Stadium will begin the upcoming season with a new sound system as well. A speaker cluster is being installed in centerfield, and sound will be wired throughout the concourse. With better technology, the team can direct sound so that it doesn’t “bleed” into the surrounding neighborhood, Smith said.
“The restrooms and concourse will all have sound,” she added. “We’re looking to keep fans in the game no matter where they are in the park.”
Poor cell service may be a thing of the past at Dodger Stadium, since the club is working with a phone company to improve service in the ballpark. Cell phone charging areas are being added, as is Wi-Fi.
Smith said team executives have received several complaints about two acute problems: concourse congestion and restroom lines. Both are being addressed in the ongoing stadium upgrades.
On the reserve and upper levels, workers are renovating all of the restrooms and adding facilities. Smith said the number of women’s restrooms will increase by 62 percent, while men’s restroom facilities will expand by 32 percent.
“We feel that will make a material difference, based on the fan feedback that we’ve received,” she said, adding that restrooms under pavilion seats will be fully accessible, and each level of the concourse will have a unisex family restroom.
Smith said the Dodgers figured out how to add eight to 15 feet of concourse space by taking out the last two to four rows on the loge, the reserve, the upper reserve and the field level. This will leave more room for concessions and retail, improve the view of the field and add ADA-accessible seating.
The Dodgers are looking to take advantage of the “incredible view” in the outfield. They are lengthening the bullpen, “which our pitchers and catchers will appreciate,” and will be adding a bar and a social area nearby, Smith said.
Dodger history will be a large part of the renovations. On the upper reserve level, a display will be installed that is devoted to the franchise’s 10 retired numbers. On the reserve level, a kids area will be flanked by five life-size bobble heads. On the first-base side, five oversize World Series rings will be installed to celebrate the five Dodgers’ championships. At the entrance to the clubhouse and dugout, the team’s Gold Gloves, Cy Young Awards and MVP honors will be hung.
“This is one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, and yet there is very little at Dodger Stadium to celebrate that,” Smith said.
Furthermore, the stadium has also been upgraded with the players in mind. The clubhouse has been gutted and will be upgraded “in a significant way,” Smith said. She said the clubhouse will double in size, and batting tunnels will be added on both sides. A weight and conditioning room will be constructed on the third-base side, and the club will add a new weight room on the visiting team side.
“The best part of this, aside from the fact that it will be brand new and finally up to Major League standards, is that it will get the visiting team out of our clubhouse,” Smith said, adding that the Dodgers had been required to share the old weight room and batting cage with the visiting team.
Additionally, the club will get a room dedicated for video coaching, hydro-therapy equipment and an auxiliary clubhouse.
“We think that all those things together will make a major difference to Dodger Stadium and the way it’s received by Major League Baseball and by the players,” Smith said. “It’s been revered since it opened in ’62 as one of the best places to watch baseball.”
Kasten said it’s possible that the work could leak over into the season, but all the facilities the fans need will be ready. He asked for fans to be patient during the first couple homestands.
“The first time we get to try something out, it’s in front of a full house. We don’t really get a dry run,” Kasten said, adding that some things may need to be tweaked operationally as the season goes on.
While some seating will be altered, he said the stadium’s capacity should stay in the vicinity of 56,000. Kasten said he hopes that the construction will lead to the stadium hosting additional events, such as an All-Star game.
He didn’t have a final figure on the cost of the work, but said it was approximately $100 million. In terms of security, Dodger Stadium staff continue to implement policies that will improve safety, and there are plans to enhance training and add additional lighting, Kasten said.
Guggenheim Partners is planning to complete additional projects at Dodger Stadium, such as the construction of a museum. Kasten said team officials will meet in April or May and begin reviewing other possibilities.
“Those are still on a drawing board somewhere, but big projects like that just weren’t doable in the time we had,” he said, adding that fans will have an opportunity to give input on future projects, just like they did prior to this year’s work. “Our goal has really been to focus on fans first.”