Progressive Field renovations are necessary to attract today's fans
The Cleveland Guardians will begin a $200 million renovation of Progressive Field at the end of next season, looking to enhance the fan experience.
Most of the renovations will be concentrated on the upper deck, which has been largely unused in recent years. Sections in right field are now taken up with shipping containers.
“It’s wasted space,” sports commentator Terry Pluto said. “In the old days of the late '90s, when they were selling out all the games, people were sitting everywhere, you couldn't have enough seats. That's been gone now for 20 years,” he said.
Pluto said what has been popular is the team’s “Corner Bar” area in the Right Field District, where $15 standing-room-only tickets are sold and fans can gather to watch the game, or sit in a bar area with craft beers on tap. It was built during the last round of renovations in 2015.
“They found that not only were people who bought that ticket to mill around, but a lot of people who bought other tickets were going there, too," he said. "So that's the goal of this is to make the top of the stadium, instead of just empty seats and shipping containers ... make it, as I said, a game experience."
Other upgrades include converting the Terrace Club near left field into an open-air space with expanded seating, and the Dugout Suites behind home plate will become private lounges.
Another part of the project is upgrading the players' clubhouse and front office space for the first time since the stadium opened in 1994.
“I thought [team President Chris Antonetti] overstated a bit on how much it helps them attract free agents. But, if you look at in terms of conditioning, what you want your weight room to look like, your nutrition center, all your video things, because so much stuff there that does need an upgrade," Pluto said. "And if you walk in the bowels of Progressive Field, you'll see that that foundation, it needs some work.”
Pluto said he’s heard from a lot of fans who want investments in a dome to cover Progressive Field and Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“Well, who's going to pay for it? It could be a $2 billion project. It's well over a billion now," he said. "I'm not sure you really want baseball in a dome. That's a question. You want a retractable roof? Oh, my goodness. That is so expensive.”
Pluto also said he’s heard criticism from fans about the $200 million price tag for the renovations, with $67 million of that coming from the Guardians. The rest will be paid for by the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the state of Ohio as part of the team’s lease extension through at least 2036.
“Now, if a team doesn't want to pay anything or whatever, then I've got a problem with it. But this is the second round of renovations at Progressive Field, and the Dolans have been willing to kick in and willing to sign lease extensions," Pluto said. "They've never threatened to move the team, unlike other previous Cleveland owners.”
And Pluto said Cleveland is the smallest market with three pro sports teams, which he said are economic drivers, with the Guardians hosting 81 home games.
“I'm just glad there was a thing where the city and the team and the county and the state, they all work together to make sure that this is a good situation for keeping baseball here," Pluto said. "And I will accent again, underline the point, 81 home games. That's a lot of activity there. You want people downtown? You have to give them a reason to go downtown.”