Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said when Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was built and contained an incorrect spelling of Janelle King’s name.
Wichita’s new ball park won’t be just a baseball stadium, but a year-round entertainment palace that will transform the city with sports, concerts and even outdoor ice skating in the outfield, city and team officials say.
“I really believe that this stadium stands to take its place as one of the iconic ball parks in America — that’s not only Minor League Baseball but Major League Baseball as well,” said Lou Schwechheimer, managing partner of the New Orleans Baby Cakes, the Triple-A farm team for the Miami Marlins that will move to Wichita and occupy the new $75 million stadium.
“It’s going to be one of those gathering places that is open to everybody,” he said. “We want people to feel welcome. It will be the front porch to our community.”
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City and team officials for the first time have released detailed plans and concept sketches of the ball park, along with an ambitious construction schedule designed to have a stadium and its major-league quality natural grass field ready to play at the start of the baseball season in April 2020.
The new stadium will be at the former site of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, which served as the city’s primary ball park from its construction in 1934 to its demolition at the end of the baseball season in 2018.
But it won’t be in exactly the same place.
Where the old stadium hugged the east edge of what is now a large vacant lot at the northwest corner of Maple and McLean, the new one will be built farther to the west, closer to Sycamore, where the Lawrence-Dumont parking lot used to be.
That will open up more land between the stadium and the Arkansas River for commercial development to generate new sales and property tax to finance the stadium project.
“It truly is more than just a ball park, although it’s an impressive ball park,” said Mayor Jeff Longwell. “It truly is going to be an anchor for the (Arkansas) river and other activity along the river.”
In addition to basic functional improvements like modern locker rooms, the new stadium will have a lot of bells and whistles the old one didn’t have.
The main entry plaza will face out onto McLean and the Arkansas River, said project architect Shannon Boehm. Designed for pre-game activity, it will lead into a large plaza behind center field with an outfield tower, a large team shop, a baseball museum and team offices just inside the main entry gate.
In comparison to Lawrence-Dumont’s one entry, the new stadium will have three. There will be one on the north side for fans entering from the Delano business district and another one on the south side at Maple.
The concourse around the stadium will be a minimum 30 feet wide and in some places much wider, to create a gathering spot where fans can socialize without blocking other peoples’ views. Luxury suites and the press box will overhang the concourse and concession areas.
There were approximately 10 concession-selling points in the old stadium. The new one will have 30 fixed and another 30 mobile concession points, designers said.
There will be a variety of seating options.
The stadium will have 6,000 fixed seats, 19 rows deep behind the plate and along both baselines.
The regular seating will be in a bowl, all of which is below the concourse.
“The seats are wider than what is standard in the industry and the rows, or the treads, are actually deeper, so plenty of legroom, it’s going to be comfortable seating,” Bohm said.
There will also be a seating berm where you can make your own space and sit on the ground, and bullpen-adjacent seating in the outfield. Also in the outfield will be a large video scoreboard and picnic areas that companies can rent out for parties.
One thing that won’t be in the new stadium is a smoking area, a significant policy change from Lawrence-Dumont. There, smoking was allowed outside the seating bowl and quite a few baseball fans would duck out to the concourse to puff a cigarette or cigar between innings. Smoking will be banned throughout the new stadium, officials said.
While most of the stadium will be concrete, the facade will be red brick, limestone and black-painted steel.
“This is reflective of the community, the Delano area around the ballpark and I think Wichita in general,” Bohm said.
The plans were not exactly a hit in their first public airing at the city’s Design Council, an advisory board that makes recommendations to the city government on the aesthetics of its public building projects.
Several members complained that the design looks too much like a traditional brickyard baseball stadium and they want a contemporary look. Some said they liked the original concept that showed the stadium at river’s edge instead of set back more toward Sycamore.
“I would just say my first impression is it’s just kind of underwhelming,” said Design Council member Janelle King, who called it “brick and steel boxes..”
“I don’t see a wow factor,” she said. “It kind of just feel we’re moving up to today’s standards instead of exceeding for tomorrow’s.”
She said she’s not a baseball fan, but when she has gone, she’s noticed things like playgrounds for children and other non-baseball amenities that seem to be lacking from the proposed park.
“When I’ve gone to other cities and gone to their similar stadiums, I’m not going to watch that baseball game and root for that team,” she said. “I’m going for the experience, that I’m going with my family or my friends and it is a community place to interact with.”
Several members of the council said that despite the time crunch to build the stadium in time for the 2020 season, they want to take the time to make sure it’s done right.
“There’s no excuses because of time frame,” said member Phil Meyer. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. No lame excuses is what I always tell my kids.”
Moving it closer to the river doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Preliminary grading and groundwork has already begun, so the field location will almost certainly be where it is, officials said.
Members of the team designing the stadium said they would tweak the plan and bring it back for further consideration by the design council.
“We brought it to you at this phase for exactly what you did,” City Manager Robert Layton told the council.
Schwechheimer said he thinks the ball park as designed would suit a variety of different activities and interests.
“We’ll have national and international (sports) festivals,” Schwechheimer said. “We’ve already reached out to some of our partners in the concert community to lock in some dates for 2020. The mayor’s talked about his love of high school football and we plan on having a lot of it at the ball park.”
Unlike Lawrence-Dumont, which largely sat idle in the winter, Schwechheimer said there are big plans for the colder months.
After baseball season ends in October, the plan is to set up an outdoor ice rink in center field and switch to fall and winter activities.
“In the fall, we transition from baseball to what we hope to have really kind of a fall pumpkin festival, a jack-o-lantern festival if you will,” he said. “We’ve done it here and some of our other ball parks, it’s been extraordinary. We’ll do a Santa’s village surrounding the skating rink. It’ll be one of those places where kids can come skate, we’ll have open skates, hockey games. We’ll turn it truly into a gathering spot for everybody.”
Another public presentation of the plans is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Advanced Learning Library.
The City Council is expected to approve the plan at its Feb. 12 meeting with a formal groundbreaking ceremony to follow on Feb. 13.