CLEVELAND (AP) — The Indians plan an extensive renovation of Progressive Field over the next two years, remodeling the 20-year-old downtown ballpark to better connect with their fans.
The club intends to make interior and exterior modifications to the area stretching from center to right field, a person familiar with the plans confirmed for The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The changes will require a modest reduction in seats, which the team will offset by the addition of social areas to accommodate fans, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not made its designs public.
The first phase of the project, expected to be finished by the 2015 home opener, will be privately financed, the person said.
The Indians will provide details of the "major enhancements" at the 43,000-seat ballpark at a news conference on Thursday. Team president Mark Shapiro will lead a guided media tour to areas of the ballpark that will be modified and upgraded.
In making substantial improvements to Progressive Field, the team will join the city's two other professional teams, the Browns and Cavaliers, who are both in the process of making enhancements at FirstEnergy Stadium and Quicken Loans Arena. While the current projects are being funded privately, some in the future may be paid with public money after voters in Cuyahoga County approved a 20-year extension of a tax on cigarettes and alcohol in May.
Known as Jacobs Field when it opened in 1994 to replace crumbling Municipal Stadium, the 43,000-seat home of Cleveland's major league baseball team has undergone numerous alterations over the past two decades. The Indians have been proactive in keeping Progressive Field outfitted with the latest in scoreboards, concessions and other services to please today's fan, and the ballpark has aged gracefully and looks as good as it did when the gates opened in '94.
However, the club has seen attendance drop from a franchise-high 3.46 million in 1999 to 1.57 million last season. The Indians are drawing only 18,659 fans per game this year — second-lowest in the majors.
There are numerous reasons for the decline: a slow-to-recover economy, dwindling population and baseball's struggle to lure younger fans among them. The Indians sold out 455 straight games from 1995 to 2001, but those days are long gone, which is why the team is looking to change the look of its ballpark to attract fans.
Also, teams are more cognizant that younger fans are seeking a different game-day experience, which may include higher-end foods and beverages, social media areas, bars and restaurants.
The timing of the Indians' renovation coincides with a rebirth of downtown Cleveland, which got a recent boost when the Republican Party announced plans to hold its 2016 national convention in the city and NBA superstar LeBron James decided to come back and play for the Cavs.