The road hasn't always been a smooth one, but Minor League Baseball and the City of Durham are moving full-speed ahead on the Durham Athletic Park renovations.
This $5-million project, whose initial funding was provided by a bond referendum, is a crucial one for those involved in Minor League Baseball. Once the renovations are complete, the venerable facility will be used as a comprehensive "Baseball Lab," in which nearly every category of baseball employee will receive education and training.
Additionally, the refurbished playing surface will serve as a home field for nearby educational institutions (most notably North Carolina Central University), and will also be used as a location for city festivals and other events. When the work is done, the city of Durham will function as the owners of the facility, while Minor League Baseball will be the operator.
This ambitious project represents a new lease on life for Durham Athletic Park (commonly called "the DAP"), which was built in 1926 and later gained worldwide recognition thanks to being prominently featured in the classic 1988 film "Bull Durham." Ground was officially broken this past April, with a goal of a "soft opening" last December and a grand opening the following spring.
But, as is often the case with such multi-faceted projects, not everything has gone as planned. Numerous construction delays (many of them weather related), and various disagreements related to the quality of the work being done, prompted Minor League president Pat O'Conner to send a letter to the city in which he expressed concern that the "renovation is falling short of everyone's goals and expectations." O'Conner also noted that Minor League Baseball had lost potential revenue-generating opportunities as a result of these delays.
The City of Durham responded to O'Conner's letter by issuing a "Status Report" on DAP's renovation. While noting that "the City does not think that the renovation is 'falling short of everyone's goals and expectations,'" the report took a largely conciliatory tone. The City offered to work with Minor League Baseball in order to find ways to "recoup some of the lost revenue by offering other venues," while also specifically responding to concerns regarding construction delays, contractor selection and playing surface issues.
The latest development in this ongoing saga is an undoubtedly positive one. On Wednesday, representatives from Minor League Baseball met with Durham city officials, including city manager, Tom Bonfield, and outgoing assistant manager for economic and workforce development, Alan DeLisle. "Full Speed Ahead!" now appears to be the mantra of the day.
"[The meeting] was a great opportunity to voice the concerns that we had face-to-face, and also to tour the park and see the situation for ourselves," said O'Conner. "We're all looking to get back on track, and everyone's working like crazy. I was very pleased with the meeting and the reception that we got, and I remain very bullish on this concept."
While hesitant to establish a concrete timeline for the opening of the new and improved DAP (especially due to weather concerns), O'Conner did provide an update as to what Minor League Baseball is now shooting for.
"We're probably looking at completing the playing surface by the first part of March, and the stadium renovations by the first part of June," he said. "But when we are ready to go, we already have in mind what we're going to do when it comes to our first couple of events. We need to stage two open houses -- one for the business community and the other for the people of Durham. That one would especially be for the kids, where they can get a hot dog and a Coke, play games, and run out onto the field.
We want to make sure the community knows that they have contributed to something that they can be proud of."