Lakeland, Fla. — A year from now, fans will pack Marchant Stadium and, almost assuredly, marvel at how a $40 million-plus face-lift has recreated the Tigers spring training home.
There will be shaded armchair seats down the left-field line in place of a cement grandstand that always has been for customers a brush with sunstroke. A 360-degree walkway around the ballpark and left-field berm that is something of a parallel to Comerica Park’s concourse circuit will offer access to assorted pleasantries, including a berm pavilion designed as much for revelry as for watching a game.
There will be a year-round restaurant and patio in the right-field corner, part of a five-station hospitality expansion that will feature an air-conditioned stadium club, as well as a covered party area capable of hosting three “picnics” of 100-200 people, not to mention additional air-conditioned suites.
Tigers players, prospects, and personnel should savor even more the product of a 15-month project jointly financed by the state of Florida, city of Lakeland, Polk County, and the Tigers.
More than 75,000 square feet in reconstruction and improvements will be part of the Tigertown transformation: a 17,000 square-foot clubhouse will replace the current shoebox in which 60 players sometimes are jammed. A dazzling new weight room, 7,068 square feet, will offer big league and minor league players the most space of any spring weight facility apart from the Rockies site in Arizona.
Gleaming new hydrotherapy pools will be part of the administrative complex, as well as office floors, and a lobby area more in tune with a fine hotel. Away from the main structure, air-conditioned indoor batting cages and practice pitching mounds will be completed. One of the four practice fields at the Tigers workout quadrant already has been covered with artificial turf to allow practices mere minutes following a heavy Florida rain.
The renovations are designed to keep the Tigers, and the $47 million they are estimated to bring each spring in local spending, in Lakeland, where the Tigers have been training for 80 years as part of the longest-standing relationship between a town and team in big league baseball.
“The new construction puts us on a major league level,” said Tigers general manager Al Avila, whose team is about to enter a new 20-year lease at Tigertown. “What it does is assure the Tigers of a first-class facility, and it’s really a place our big league, and our minor league, players can be proud of.
“And, I think, it’s a place where our fans will love to come — sort of their home away from home.”
Although the project has been evolving the past four years, Thursday’s unveiling was the first public glimpse at renderings and details that should make Tigertown and its Marchant Stadium epicenter the finest overall baseball facility in Florida.
Bob Donahay, director of Lakeland Parks and Recreation, is the project’s overseer, and joined in a Thursday presentation with Ron Myers, the Tigers’ director of Florida operations.
“I can tell you it will be the best facility on God’s green earth,” Donahay said.
Mark Jackson, director of tourism and sports marketing for Polk County, said the project’s financing was a simple matter of common sense. He estimates, personally, that the Tigers bring closer to $55 million in revenue to the area, commerce that led to investment by three government partners, as well as the Tigers, who pay annual rent of $530,000 on their Tigertown headquarters.
Marchant Stadium will change appreciably by the time remodeling wraps up next February. Expanded rest rooms, more concourse space, relocated ticket areas, as well as the covered, more comfortable, seating areas along the third base/left field line will be part of the grand redesign.
One week after the Tigers depart Lakeland to begin their big league season, demolition of the grandstand, as well as other knockdowns, will begin. The Tigers Single A affiliate, the Lakeland Flying Tigers, will be relocated from Marchant Stadium in 2016 and will instead play their games at Henley Field, the ancient ballpark that originally was home to the spring-camp Tigers before Marchant Stadium opened 50 years ago.