Fans' interests at heart of Minute Maid Park renovations
HOUSTON -- Minute Maid Park figures to look drastically different over the next couple of years, as the Astros continue to make changes to improve the fan experience throughout the ballpark.
Major renovations began at the end of the season, when the team began reshaping the club level and upper-deck areas to improve concessions and make them more open. The club level is receiving a floor-to-ceiling makeover that will include a pair of bar areas with views of the field and improved concessions.
Bigger changes lie ahead following the 2015 season, when the Astros renovate the areas behind the center-field wall, including the possible removal of Tal's Hill and repositioning of the bullpens. There could even be a Hall of Fame area and a plaza outside the ballpark.
For next season, the food-and-beverage stands on the club level will be repositioned to allow fans a clear view of the field from various points on the concourse. The general infrastructure of many of the new concession stands will also be renovated to allow for fresher, higher-quality food-and-beverage products.
"It's going to be a nice place," said Astros senior vice president of business operations Marcel Braithwaite. "Club has always been a premium area for fans. There's a group of people that just love that vantage point of the field, and there's always some special amenities that go with it. ... Ours has just become dated, and it's time to give them that fresh feel and look.
"The tastes of the community have changed. This was a beautiful park when it was built, and it still is. It was built for private locations and kind of secluded spots -- and dark colors and kind of away from things. Now, people like to see the food made in front of them. They want to be around the action, they want a place to be social."
One of the best features coming on the club level is the removal of the ticket office along the third-base side. That area will be opened up, giving fans a view outside the stadium on to Texas Avenue.
"The ballpark is so beautiful and has all of this tremendous architecture," Braithwaite said. "We want people to look out and in, and just experience the daylight and the sun or the lights shining through the window at night."
The Astros have hired MSA Architects out of Cincinnati to rework the area beyond center field. Braithwaite said with an urban community growing around the stadium, the club wants to create some hang-out spots and make Minute Maid Park a destination for more than just baseball.
Braithwaite and president of baseball operations Reid Ryan visited more than 20 other ballparks last season to get ideas for re-imagining the center-field areas in Houston.
The Astros view the area beyond center field as a space with the infrastructure to support large-scale events and gathering areas. There could even be changes to the 5-7 Grill, which doesn't have views of the field from well beyond center field.
"You have to look at what you can change, structural beams and things of that nature," Braithwaite said. "Can you put a roof deck over the top of Tal's Hill? Could you tie it into the Champions Pavilion? Could you do different restaurant spaces like a batter's-eye club in Arlington? There's so many different options out there.
"We don't want to plagiarize [other stadiums], but use them as a reference point to bring something that has the identity of Houston into that area. And as the city develops around us, we could potentially have an open walkway like Eutaw Street [at Camden Yards] in Baltimore."
Braithwaite said any renovations will be done with respect to the Astros' rich history. This could mean more areas around the ballpark to commemorate great moments in team history, like Jose Altuve's batting title and Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit, for example.
The bottom line is giving fans a ballpark they can enjoy for years.
"We don't want to build something that, in two years, the fans go, 'The newness has worn off and we're not interested anymore,'" Braithwaite said. "We want to do this right, so it's something that can be used and enjoyed for years to come -- and not something that's just new and different and then it wears off. We want people that, when they come to the World Series, they have lots of places to enjoy, lots of places to create memories."