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Changes not just in name
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04/01/2003  2:58 PM ET 
Changes not just in name
Third phase of renovation project ready for opener
By Damon P. Young / MLB.com

The new video screen and "fan deck" in center field at U.S. Cellular Field. (Damon P. Young/MLB.com)
  • Renovation Photo Gallery Photo Gallery
  • CHICAGO -- When fans walk into U.S. Cellular Field for the first time on April 4 for the home opener, they’ll notice that the ballpark’s name is not the only change.

    Several renovations, designed to enhance the fan experience at U.S. Cellular Field, were unveiled Tuesday by the Chicago White Sox, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns the ballpark, and Dallas-based architectural firm HKS, Inc.

    The renovations, completed during the offseason and now receiving finishing touches before the home opener, include a new scoreboard video screen in center field -- the first of its kind in the United States -- two video display screens on the upper-deck facade, a new “fan deck” on the center-field concourse, upgrades to the outfield and upper-deck concourses, and a new paint job.

    “I think people will be pleasantly surprised,” said Terry Savarise, the club’s vice president of operations, as he walked local media through the ballpark. “Everybody that comes through so far has remarked how different the place looks.

    “When you look at everything we’ve done over the last three years, I think this ballpark is dramatically changed. When we start doing some of the bigger pieces with the naming rights money in the next year or so, that will be the finishing touch.”


    "I think if (fans) stop and forget what they’ve heard in the past and look at with their own eyes, I think they’ll feel much better about the ballpark. It almost looks like a new ballpark, and in two years, it really will. I hope they give it a chance. I think they’re really going to like it."
    -- Terry Savarise, vice president of operations

    “This is a major undertaking,” said Andy Henning of HKS. “By the time they’re done here, they going to end up nearly building half a new ballpark with the money they invest. It’s great to see that they’re taking that money and putting it into the park to make it more fan-friendly.”

    That’s exactly what the White Sox are hoping for. That the renovations have created a more intimate, fan-friendly environment for the 12-year-old ballpark, which has received many complaints since it was opened in 1991. Despite being one of the first new ballparks constructed, the stadium has always lacked the appeal of the more traditional parks that emerged in the late 90s.

    “This park was built at a time that wasn’t exactly perfect,” said Henning. “It was built in the late 80s, early 90s when everything was going modern. Immediately after that everything went retro, everybody wanted warm colors and brick, which we’re adding now. Unfortunately, timeframe-wise they just kind of missed the boat. Now we’re trying to get them caught up. ... Those teams that made the brave effort to go back to the retro stuff unfortunately made this ballpark not as attractive as people first thought.”

    The club hopes that fans will now give the ballpark a second chance.

    “I think if they stop and forget what they’ve heard in the past and look at with their own eyes, I think they’ll feel much better about the ballpark,” Savarise suggested. “I know certainly I do and others do too. It almost looks like a new ballpark, and in two years, it really will. I hope they give it a chance. I think they’re really going to like it.

    “We visited every ballpark, new and old, just to see what ideas were out there and what could be done. We think we did our homework. I think this reflects the best of what we saw.”

    Approximately $30 million, including $20 million for the latest phase, has been spent for stadium improvements since the team began the renovation project in 2000. All revenues received from the recent $68 million naming rights deal with U.S. Cellular are earmarked for renovations.

    Details of future enhancements will be announced in the coming months.

    “We’re really excited,” Savarise said of future renovations. “We’re having a lot of fun going through various ideas, seeing what will work and what won’t. When we start rolling those out in a couple months, we’re going to get a lot of people excited.”

    “You’ll be surprised over the next years of what you’re going to see,” Henning concluded. “What you see this year is nothing compared to what you’ll see over the next two years. ... There are going to be significant changes.

    “We’re starting to give the ballpark an identity that fits Chicago more so than the original park.”

    Specifics of the newly-completed renovations include:
    New center field video board and LED “ribbon” boards
    A new, state-of-the-art 28 foot x 53 foot full-color, high-resolution Mitsubishi video screen on the scoreboard nearly doubles the size of the previous video display. The video screen will be one of the highest-resolution screens in Major League Baseball, featuring 672 x 1280 dot density, jitter-free images and HDTV and true wide screen compatibility.

    Complementing the main video screen, two 300-foot-long, five-foot-high video LED “ribbon” boards will run along the facade of the ballpark’s upper deck. The LEDs will be the largest continuous video ribbon boards in MLB and the highest-resolution video ribbons in professional sports. The LEDs will have the ability to synchronize with the center field video board; layer graphics and scoring in real time over video; and import animations, text, video and graphic images.

    Outfield/Upper deck concourse upgrades
    Design upgrades to the outfield and upper deck concourses will change the walls, lighting and concession stands to match the themes used in the main concourse for 2002, including brick overlays and stainless steel countertops. Stylish iron “gateways” and old-fashioned lamps will be installed above aisles in the outfield to give the concourse a very distinctive look.

    Fan Deck in center field
    A new “fan deck” has been built on the center field concourse. This area will feature food and beverage service in a patio-like atmosphere, and includes an elevated viewing platform that enables fans to look down onto the playing field from a unique vantage point above the batter’s eye. This area will be open to all fans.

    Painting and staining in the ballpark
    Formerly white, the outfield steel framework and underside of the upper deck canopy have been painted a dark gray, while much of the concrete in the seating area and on the pedestrian ramps have been stained gray to change the ballpark’s overall color scheme.

    Damon P. Young is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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