Astros delay renovations to Minute Maid; Tal’s Hill lives another year
When center fielder Lorenzo Cain and the rest of the Kansas City Royals arrive at Minute Maid Park for the Astros’ home opener on April 11, 2016, Tal’s Hill will be on hand to greet them.
The Astros said Thursday they have suspended their planned $15 million renovation of center field and the seating areas and concourses behind center field, which was scheduled to be in place for next season.
All those plans remain in play for 2017 and beyond, said Reid Ryan, the Astros’ president for business operations. But as the Astros closed their season with a surprise playoff push, it became clear that work could not be completed in time for the 2016 opener.
“We’re under nobody’s time frame but our own, and we felt it as better to put this off a year rather than try to push a position that might put us on risk of opening day,” Ryan said.
He added, “I don’t think the vision has changed, just the time frame.”
The Astros announced in June they would remove Tal’s Hill, the 30-degree center field incline named for former club president Tal Smith that includes a flagpole in the field of play, and move the center field fence from 436 feet, the deepest in Major League Baseball, to 409 feet.
By scrapping the hill and moving in the fence, the Astros planned an elaborate redesign that included a 92-foot-tall observation tower/elevator, a field-level club section, mezzanine seats and a redesigned concourse with bars, concessions and stores.
The Astros played their last regular-season home game Sept. 27, but the team’s advance into the American League Division Series, with home games last Sunday and Monday, cut deeply into the construction schedule.
Club officials also announced plans last week to host an international cricket match at the ballpark on Nov. 11.
“We knew we were going to have to start work probably while the baseball season was still going on,” Ryan said. “Getting into the bidding process and fully vetting everything, taking something from a piece of paper … it was just more detail than we thought we could get done.”
Should the Astros continue as playoff contenders next year, Ryan said the ballclub will be better prepared to cope with schedule changes. One suggestion, he said, is to work during the 2016 season on projects that are not “field facing” while games continue.
One possibility, he said, is that renovations could be completed in two off seasons rather than one.
“Our plans are to put in what we designed and rolled out, but the first thing we have to do is to be able to have a scope and a plan that we can deliver,” Ryan said. “If we can’t deliver it, then it doesn’t matter what our model looks like.”
While the big project has been put on hold, Ryan said the Astros will work during the fall and winter on renovations to suites and to upper deck levels. Also on the drawing board are more points of sale, additional restrooms and a team hall of fame.
Parking also remains an issue surrounding the ballpark as development continues on the east side of downtown Houston. A new parking garage around the George R. Brown Convention Center will help, but a future freeway rerouting project will complicate mattes further.
“We’re going to figure out how people access this facility and what is happening around the ballprk,” Ryan said. “Just about the time we think our patterns will change traffic-wise with this gate and that gate, something else pops up.”
As for Tal’s Hill, that will pop up, too, for Cain and the Royals, who ousted the Astros from the playoffs and will be first on the 2016 home schedule.
“I fell on it before,” Cain said Monday, laughing. “I heard they’re going to remove it and whatnot. We’ll see what happens next year.”