1-6-12: New center field takes shape at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington

Posted Thursday, Jan. 05, 2012

By Susan Schrock

ARLINGTON — A new sports bar and concession stands, air-conditioned children's play area and additional club seating with spectacular views of the field are among new fan-friendly features under construction at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The team provided local media a first look at $12 million in improvements to the city-owned stadium, which hasn't been significantly renovated since it opened in 1994.

A taller railing in front of the seating sections and renovations to Vandergriff Plaza as well as the first floor of the office building in centerfield are expected to be complete by Opening Day April 6, team officials said.

To help give fans relief from the elements, the Rangers are adding 23,000 square feet of indoor, air-conditioned space, which includes a two-story restaurant and sports bar with views of the field, a kid's zone to replace the outdoor Vandergriff Plaza Sports Park and a 100-seat Batter's Eye Club on top of Greene’s hill in centerfield.

"We're trying to improve the fan experience," said Rob Matwick, the team's vice president of ballpark and event operations, during the tour.

Even before these latest changes are complete, Matwick said Rangers officials are already evaluating the next phase of new amenities and services, including the possibility of one day selling wine throughout the ballpark instead of just in the suites, clubs or new restaurant.

Arlington city leaders say the Rangers' investment will help keep the ballpark a strong tourist attraction. The team's lease on the stadium, which costs $2 million a year, lasts through 2024.

Tax break helps

The latest off-season renovations come one year after the team spent $13 million to install new video boards and overhaul the ballpark's aging audio and video systems.

With more permanent improvements being made to the stadium this time, the city of Arlington stepped forward this week to help the Rangers save an estimated $600,000 in sales taxes by allowing the team to pay for labor and construction supplies under a tax-exempt status.

"You don't need to let assets begin to become obsolete or not have the types of amenities that attract people to your area," Deputy City Manager Trey Yelverton said. "We can't sit by idly and expect tourism dollars to show up. We have to continue to invest."

While the city isn't directly financing the project, the Arlington City Council approved a deal this week that will allow the Rangers to take advantage of the Arlington Convention Center Development Corporation's tax-exempt certificate.

Rangers and city officials consulted with the state comptroller for approval to restructure the local government corporation, created by the city in 2007 to promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry, to also handle the team's construction contracts on the stadium.

The original ballpark construction was tax-exempt through the former Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority, but the city dissolved that local government corporation in 2010.

"They are making a large investment relative to our ballpark. We felt like it was a reasonable request to take those dollars as far as they could to do more amenities," Yelverton said about working with the team to secure the sales tax advantage.

The savings will go toward the current renovations, Matwick said.

"If we didn't get the exemption, we might have had to look at cutting other areas of the project," Matwick said.

More alcohol options

Team officials are holding internal discussions on possible future improvements, Matwick said.

One idea being evaluated is applying with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for a mixed-beverage permit for the entire ballpark just like the adjacent Cowboys Stadium has. The change would allow baseball fans to drink wine in their seats, an idea pushed by fans after the Rangers' 2010 postseason.

Currently, fans can only drink wine inside a few enclosed areas at the ballpark that have their own mixed beverage permits, such as the clubs. Fans can already drink beer or beer-based drinks at their seats in most areas of the ballpark.

The downside to having a mixed-beverage permit for the entire stadium is that the team would have to pay significantly higher taxes, which would jump from 8 percent to 14 percent, to the state on all alcoholic beverage sales, Matwick said. That could possibly take away more revenue than wine sales bring in, Matwick said.

City Attorney Jay Doegey said Rangers and city leaders have been discussing options to meet fans' request for more alcoholic beverage options, but ultimately it will be up to the team to decide which to pursue.

"In one respect it would be making [the ballpark] more accommodating to fans," Doegey said. "On the other hand, it has the impact of raising the sales taxes on their drinks. They have to make a decision." 8

Play ball

The Texas Rangers are making $12 million in ballpark renovations, which are expected to be complete by Opening Day. Improvements include:

■ 6,250-square-foot air-conditioned Batter's Eye Club, at the top of Greene’s Hill in center field. The club will include seating for 100 and be rented for groups and, for select games, individuals. The Batter’s Eye, which will have a full glass wall facing the field.

■ 9,152-square-foot air-conditioned Rangers-themed restaurant and sports bar on the first floor of the office building in left center field. Will be open before, during and after home games, and likely for rental when the Rangers are on the road. Fox Sports Southwest and ESPN Radio will have studio space in the area. The Rangers concessionaire Sportsservice will run the food and beverages at this venue and the Batter's Eye.

■ Kids Zone. 6,470-square-foot air-conditioned Kids Zone play area on the first floor of the office building in straightaway center field. Will include interactive games and other attractions and operate similarly to the former Vandergriff Plaza Sports Park.

■ New Vandergriff Plaza. 12,000-square-foot area that housed the former childrens zone in back of Greene's Field in center field will be rebuilt to include new concessions and a large video board on the back of the Batter's Eye.

■ Aluminum bleacher seats on the right and left sides of Greene's Hill will be replaced with standard ballpark seating. Capacity will be 424, down 1,075 from the previous bleacher seating.

■ The visitors bullpen will run parallel to the left center field wall, instead of perpendicular to it, as it is now.

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