DENVER -- When Coors Field opened in 1995, it was heralded as one of the best ballparks in baseball, blending the game's tradition with modern amenities. After 18 seasons, Rockies owner/chairman & chief executive officer Dick Monfort is bringing elements of other ballparks to improve the park through renovations with an investment of over $6 million.
The Rockies started construction on the changes in late November and finished about the time the Rockies headed north from Spring Training to start their season. The home opener is on Friday, and Monfort can't wait for fans to see the new improvements.
"It's not our biggest [slate of improvements], but it's one of them," Monfort said. "A new scoreboard [installed several years ago] is $10 million. We're going to spend over $6 million on the park this year."
The cost of the improvements were primarily covered by the Rockies, but Aramark, the concession contractor, Coors Brewery, which owns the in-park brew pub, and the Stadium District all chipped in to some degree.
"A lot of this comes from changes in our customers and what people want," Monfort said. "When we go to parks, we look at people's inventory and what they've got. The stadium is 18 years old, and things change."
The challenge with baseball is always to retain a sense of history and tradition while embracing a changing culture, and Fenway Park provides an ideal model for a facility determined to remain vibrant in hopes of never needing a replacement.
"Our lease is up in 2017," Monfort said. "Our plan is to go into a new lease with the Stadium District that would last at least 20 years. The normal plan is go into a ballpark for 20 years, then you get someone to build a new one for you. Our goal is never to let that happen."
Some of the Coors Field enhancements include:
• Decreased suite seating from 56 to 49, combining several smaller suites into fewer, bigger suites that feel more spacious and social.
"I wasn't around, but I imagine the first five or 10 years, we sold these suites out," Monfort said. "Now, we sell them game by game."
•The old Sandlot Brewery has been updated again, serving as a 10-barrel brew house with experimental beers that brewmaster John Legnard tries out on Rockies fans. One of the earliest trials, Bellyslide Belgian White, has evolved into a marquee product now known as "Blue Moon," named when the brewers determined that a beer that good came around only once in a blue moon.
The brewery was given a facelift with new beetle-kill wood throughout the bar, echoing the look in the Rockies offices at their Spring Training complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., and it will be opened as a tasting room on days when the Rockies are out of town, starting in early May. Their new brew for 2013 is a tasty brew called 20th Anniversary Ale.
• One unique feature that isn't known to exist in any other ballpark is "The Garden," a sustainable garden created through a partnership with The Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University. The Garden will provide Aramark with sustainably produced and managed vegetables and herbs, including peppers, tomatoes, chives, scallions, parsley, rosemary, and thyme, all of which will be incorporated into food items at the Mountain Ranch Club in right field. They're cultivating seeds at CSU, planting in mid-May, and hope to harvest in June, working with schools in the Denver area to water, plant, and harvest.
• The Rockies have adapted part of the center-field picnic area behind the batters' eye as a larger area for small children called Dinger's Dugout. The playground focuses on smaller kids, who have to be below 3-feet-6-inches to enter and play. The cool, shady area should be a haven for younger kids with wandering attention who need a place to be physical.
• The Warning Track Party Suite in right field has been upgraded with seats instead of bleachers, wood floors instead of cement, and an improved ambience. Monfort attributed the Mets and Brewers with some of the ideas for the Warning Track. Improvements in the party suite have been on Monfort's wish list for years, and the changes were made in the offseason.
• The Coors Clubhouse area, the premium seats directly behind home plate, got some changes, enlarging their seats and moving six feet closer to home plate. The move will probably eliminate some foul balls from play, which Monfort joked should help "since we're such a pitcher-friendly ballpark." The Rockies borrowed from St. Louis' Busch Stadium, replacing a storage room for light bulbs and pipes and putting in a restaurant and bar. The seats are five inches wider with three inches more leg room, and more access points to avoid obstructions in the view when fans come and go from their seats.
• The Press Club was inspired by the White Sox and Astros, improving on a retrofit approach to adding more high-end seating options for fans. The season ticket option goes for $175 a game, and puts fans adjacent to the working press area, separating fans from media with a glass wall. More than 60 percent of the old press box is now a bar, restaurant and seating area directly behind home plate at a level between the club level and the main concourse.
The smaller working press area now has a capacity of 50, after previously holding 156 media members through Coors' first 18 years. There are 62 seats for Press Club ticket holders and 20 standing-room spaces.
"Kansas City spent $250 million on their baseball stadium," Monfort said. "We know what's going on in the National League West. If you don't keep these things up, then all of a sudden you have something that can't compete or is not a friendly place, and now you got to get something new. Part of it is to keep up, and part of it is to enhance the experience for the fans."
Fans flock to Coors Field regardless, with 2.6 million people -- an average of 32,475 per game -- coming out to watch the Rockies last year, but Monfort knows that winning is the key to keeping fans in the seats and making the park an enduring classic.
"If we want this to be one of those grand old parks, we need to win four or five championships," Monfort said.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com.