The Chronicle

$19 million Durham Bulls Athletic Park upgrade

The Durham Bulls Athletic Park, already a jewel in the revitalized downtown’s crown, is getting major upgrades.

This offseason, workers and team officials have been working to renovate the stadium in time for opening day April 3 with a more modern fan and player experience. Roughly $19 million is being poured into improving a variety of aspects of the ballpark, ranging from the playing surface to the lights, according to a team press release.

“The Durham Bulls were our first main destination attraction when they came to town in the mid to late 90’s, and they’ve served as a real beacon for our community,” said Ted Conner, vice president of economic development and community sustainability at the Durham Chamber of Commerce.

Since 2005, the Bulls have regularly placed near the top of the Triple-A International League in attendance and drew nearly 500,000 fans last year. The construction of the stadium and the commercial success of the team sparked the development of the American Tobacco Campus, the Durham Performing Arts Center and multiple office buildings around the ballpark.

“By upgrading the ballpark, it reflects the city of Durham’s commitment as well as the owner’s commitment to maintaining quality baseball and a quality attraction here in Durham, which we’re excited to see,” Conner said.

The excitement surrounding the extensive upgrades extends to the Duke community, which has invested in Durham’s development. Scott Selig, the Duke associate vice president for capital assets, said the ballpark renovation and similar projects have positive effects on the University.

“The renovation of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park increases the rising tide of excitement in downtown Durham,” Selig wrote in an e-mail Monday. “[The rise of downtown Durham] helps to recruit the best faculty staff and students to Duke.”

The decision to update DBAP came hand-in-hand with an agreement reached in April between the Bulls and the City of Durham to extend a lease that will keep the Bulls in Durham until 2033. Given the long-term commitment, the team and the city felt renovations were necessary.

Specifically, DBAP will receive three new HD video displays, an improved sound system, revamped field irrigation infrastructure, more comfortable seats, sustainable field lighting, new picnic areas, added concessions, improved concourse sightlines and a new luxury suite called the PNC Triangle Club.

Scott Carter, Durham Bulls director of marketing, explained in an e-mail Wednesday that the city agreed to pay $6 million of the construction costs at the outset of the project and that the Bulls are responsible for the rest. He said the funding being dedicated to the project will be well worth it.

“A majority of the overage went to more concessions upgrades, video displays and the new PNC Triangle Club,” Carter said. “The weather has not been kind to us this winter to say the least, but the work being put in to make the DBAP one of the best venues in the country is on track.”

Conner is also convinced that the Bulls and the city of Durham will receive a positive long-term return on their investment.

“It’s going to generate a much more attractive fan experience,” Conner said. “We expect to see current fans returning to the ballpark and we think the renovations will expand the attraction to new fans.”

While certainly expensive, the stadium makeover serves as yet another reinforcement of downtown Durham’s viability and appeal. Spring is right around the corner, and never more so than at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.