The new Cheney Stadium is a big hit with fans, Tacoma Rainiers players and staff with the minor-league baseball team.
Mike Combs was instrumental in the project through his position as public assembly facilities director for the city. He retired from the job a few months ago, shortly after the new ballpark opened.
There has been some misunderstanding about some work done near the end of the construction project. This has been termed cost overrun, which Combs said is not accurate.
The original contract called for substantial completion of work by March 15. Combs said this was extended for two weeks. Some members of Tacoma City Council seemed surprised when Mortenson Construction presented a bill for $821,000. Council postponed taking action on this item.
Combs said the short extension allowed for work to be done on some amenities that were removed from the original plans. Like any major project, there were contingency funds for unexpected issues. As there were few of those, it allowed for some extra amenities. These include a canopy over seating on the third-base side, a grass berm on the first-base side, a ramp to allow people in wheelchairs to access the berm area, and improvements to locker rooms and offices.
The right-field fence was lowered from 16 feet. Combs noted this allows for more home runs, as well as for outfielders to make spectacular catches.
Combs said that when there is an increase in a construction budget that is paid for with contingency funds, council is supposed to approve this. This step was missed. He said city staff should have done this in February or March.
He noted the lease has the team, not the city, responsible for replacing furniture and fixtures in the future.
Combs noted major improvements to Cheney Stadium were needed to keep the team in town. He noted the price was less than it would have been five years ago because of the overall downturn in the economy.
“If we had not done this, we would be sitting around in that old stadium watching the grass grow.”
Combs said city staff are putting together a memo for council explaining why the additional work was done. Council will vote on the matter later this month.
Combs noted this project was a collaboration between the team, fans, city, county, state government (which provided several million for improvements in recent years) and the Ben B. Cheney Foundation.
“This could not have happened without all of them working together,” he observed.
Out with the old, in with the new and improved
Team President Aaron Artman, who is also a part owner with the new ownership group, said there never was any risk of exceeding the construction budget. He noted the bonds that were issued to pay for it, and the lease extension between the team and city, requires all the money to be spent on the stadium.
Artman has spoken to radio announcers who cover other teams, who rave about the new ballpark.
“They cannot believe it. They rank it up with any minor-league stadium in the country.”
Rainiers players and staff appreciate the changes.
“They want clean, safe facilities,” Artman said. “This is their job, their future.”
The old ballpark was the worst in AAA from a player standpoint, according to Artman. Pipes leaked water and heating and air conditioning systems did not work properly.
Already the Rainiers have had eight sellout games. Last year the team did not reach that achievement until August. Attendance is up by 800 to 1,000 fans per game, Artman noted.
The project paved the way for new, local owners to purchase the team from the Schlegel family, who are based in Texas.
“I came here to get this project done, then fell in love with this city,” Artman said. “We are excited to keep baseball here.”
Hillary Hadland and her parents, Jim and Susan Hadland, were at a recent game. The University Place residents said they enjoyed the new amenities.
“I love it,” said Hillary, who was attending her first game in the new ballpark.
Fred Duke of Gig Harbor was also at his first game in the new Cheney Stadium. “It looks beautiful,” he said. “It looks a hell of a lot better than before.”
Brad Jeter has season tickets in the new Dugout Club. “Ultimately, it is a nice facility,” he said. His membership in the club includes food, beer and wine. He noted he has only missed two games this season, one of which was a rainout.
George Wolford has worked at Bosnick Roofing, located in University Place, for 37 years. He is the company’s superintendent. When he heard of the luxury suites planned for the new ballpark, he contacted his friends at Pioneer Building Supply. The two businesses share a suite. They bring employees of both companies to games.
Local baseball is important to Wolford. His father almost signed a contract to play with the old Tacoma Tigers, who played back in the World War II era. Wolford began attending games at Cheney Stadium as a boy.
An administrative assistant with Bosnick Roofing has the task of ordering food. There are several options, from the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers to nachos or steak.
“Our companies’ employees really enjoy this,” Wolford said. “The girls who serve our food are so nice. This is a warm and friendly environment.” His favorite clubhouse attendant, Carol Watson, happened to be on duty that particular evening.
The companies have access to the suite 365 days a year. They have held staff meetings in the suite. Wolford said on days the team is on the road or during the offseason, they just need to call Rainiers staff to arrange to be admitted.
The staff does much to make attending games a great experience. “The staff of the team talks to us and makes us feel so welcome,” Wolford remarked