Pirates launch master plan study for future of PNC Park

Forbes Field served as the Pirates’ home for 62 years. Three Rivers Stadium survived just 30.

The Pirates have launched a 10-phase study to make sure PNC Park lives as long as the former and more than the latter. The team is working with sports architecture firm Populous on a 10- to 15-year study of PNC Park that team officials hope will add longevity to the riverfront ballpark opened in 2001.

“In 1970, Pittsburgh had a cutting-edge, visionary ballpark in Three Rivers Stadium,” Pirates owner Bob Nutting said Wednesday at the Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium, presented by SportsBusiness Journal/​Daily, at the Marriott City Center.

“It turned out that didn’t have the sustaining legs as a ballpark design. I personally believe PNC Park can, and I hope that 50, 60, 80 years from now, it’s seen as an icon.”

The goal of the master plan study is to make sure PNC Park, often described as one of America’s best ballparks, will continue to be an industry leader and not become obsolete.

The ballpark is in its 14th season. Nine new stadiums have opened since. Newer ballparks feature high-definition video boards and improved sound systems that the Pirates’ home lacks.

As part of the study, the Pirates have considered building a hospitality deck beyond the center-field wall.

The team is considering other modifications to its suites that would add space for larger parties.

“We’re going through a massive master-planning phase for the next generation of PNC Park,” team president Frank Coonelly said at the conference. “It really is everything.”

Such reviews are relatively common in the industry, and some teams conduct them on an annual basis, said Robert Otani, a structural engineer and principal at Thornton Tomasetti, a New York structural engineering firm.

Initially, the priority for the Pirates will be to meet current technological standards.

As part of a Major League Baseball initiative, PNC Park is currently being outfitted to support Wi-Fi so fans with Internet-capable devices can connect during a game.

The installation was supposed to be finished by opening day, but Mr. Coonelly said free wireless Internet should be available in August.

Recent modifications to PNC Park — specifically the installation of the Budweiser Bowtie Bar in 2012 and the Club Cambria suite lounge in 2010 — motivated Mr. Nutting to push for a long-term plan.

“We’re trying to find what the best ballpark in 2030 is going to look like,” he said. “It’s not crystal clear to me what that looks like.”

Populous, formerly HOK Sports, is a Kansas City, Mo.-based firm that designed PNC Park. Some of the ballpark’s original architects are part of this review.

The Pirates launched the study a couple months ago. The team is paying for the review, though it declined to disclose costs.

The Pirates will work with fan focus groups throughout its analysis, and Mr. Coonelly said the fans have already informed the team that they don't want any modifications that will alter the view of the Allegheny River or Pittsburgh's skyline.

Mr. Nutting said the team will work with the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports and Exhibition Authority to fund any renovations.

In the wake of a prolonged battle between the Steelers and the SEA over a seat expansion at Heinz Field, Mr. Nutting said the Pirates plan to have ongoing discussions with the authority, “in particular in areas where PNC Park has fallen behind the industry standard.”

“Those are the ones that we and they need to address,” he said.

SEA executive director Mary Conturo said the Pirates had mentioned to the agency that they were going to undertake such a study. But she added there has been no discussion regarding funding.

“We’re always willing to look at possible improvements to the ballpark but we have limitations with respect to funding and our obligations under the lease,” she said.

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1969 and Twitter @msanserino. Mark Belko contributed to this report. First Published June 11, 2014 10:01 AM

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