As construction workers rush to meet a fast-approaching deadline, a 51-year-old Tacoma landmark is taking on a radically different look.
Behind $30 million of renovations, the new Cheney Stadium – set for a public unveiling April 2 – boasts more premium seating, more restrooms and more concessions. There are new luxury suites, more team offices and more spaces for public events.
“We milked every nickel out of the project,” said Rick Melvin, the city’s project manager. “ The value we got for $30 million, it’s unbelievable.”
But as the stunted wooden overhangs from the stadium’s new three-tiered super-structure clearly show, one of the old ballpark’s key features for fans in general admission seating has actually diminished: Roof coverage.
By the contractor’s calculations, nearly 1,700 more seats will be exposed in the new ballpark.
Now, records of private bid meetings recently obtained by The News Tribune through a public records request show a member of the city’s bid selection committee told the eventual winning bid team that it did not need to meet a formal requirement given to all finalists – that the refurbished stadium had to provide at least the same amount of roof coverage that the original ballpark did.
The discussion in late 2009 occurred during the early stages of the final design-build bid process, as three teams of finalists vying for the project engaged in separate closed-door meetings with the selection committee made up of city and team officials and their consultants.
The meetings were held to allow bidders to present preliminary designs, ask questions and to get feedback for the project before submitting formal proposals.
During a meeting Dec. 2, a principal architect with a team led by Mortenson Construction suggested that – while it “does not meet the program requirements for covered seats” – reducing the ballpark’s roof would provide significant cost savings and improve views of Mount Rainier.
According to the meeting’s minutes, Tacoma Rainiers President Aaron Artman, one of seven selection committee members, responded:
“Roof doesn’t make us any money. If we can get rid of roof for higher (suite) finishes and a nicer conference center, we would be crazy to argue. We can sell the view as the reason for less roof anyway.”
During the same conversation, a city consultant noted that the “Covered seating clarification will come out if other (bid) teams ask the same questions” that the Mortenson team did.
But the other teams did not – and the bid selection committee didn’t formally clarify for all bidders that roof coverage could be reduced, records show.
In fact, records show the committee did the opposite.
A month earlier, during a similar closed-door session with members of a bid team led by Turner Construction, Artman told them: “(T)he roof is an important amenity for fans, and equivalent coverage should be provided in renovation,” meeting minutes show.
The Turner team then proceeded with a preliminary design plan that included even more roof coverage than the old ballpark provided, records show. It presented the design to the committee during a meeting Dec. 4 – two days after Artman had told Mortenson the roof coverage requirement was optional.
Then, on Dec. 15, after completing two rounds of meetings with each bidder, the selection committee issued formal clarifications for the project. Among them was a requirement to “provide roof covering of the seating bowl with equal seating coverage to that currently existing.”
“Additional coverage would be desirable, but is not required,” the clarification added.
Ultimately, the Mortenson team won the contract with a design featuring a scaled-back roofline. Cost savings realized from a smaller roof allowed the team to include other sought-after ballpark features that helped win the committee’s highest design score, interviews and records show.
Although Mortenson’s $27 million bid was $2 million higher than the lowest bid, committee members later said design elements were weighted more heavily in deciding the winner.
The meeting minutes – recorded individually by each design-build team vying for the project – shed new light on an already controversial bidding process that drew formal protests in 2010 over two separate allegations.
Those claims included that bids were opened out-of-sequence according to the city’s rules, and that a member of the Mortenson team inappropriately met with a selection committee member during the bid selection process. The city investigated both allegations but upheld the process as fair.
City Councilman David Boe also drew a separate ethics complaint after he revealed that he’d helped one of the losing bid teams with its architectural designs, prior to being appointed to the City Council. The city’s ethics board found Boe’s unpaid business relationship did not violate city rules but raised some ethical concerns.
Recently told about the private meeting minutes and Artman’s comments to the Mortenson team, a member for one of the losing teams responded: “We were told something completely different.”
“If the rules change, they’re supposed to change them for everyone so that we’re all running the same race,” added Bill Ecker, a project executive for the WPC bid team. “I guess we all weren’t playing by the same rules that we thought we were, but nobody seems to care. We’ve moved on.”
NO ‘UNFAIR ADVANTAGE’
During recent interviews, both Artman and Mike Combs, the city’s public facilities director who also served on the selection committee, said they don’t recall any specific comments members made during meetings that took place more than 15 months ago.
Each added that the design-build bid process legally restricts committee members from sharing certain proprietary information from one bidder with their competitors.
“Whatever they told us in a meeting,” added Melvin, the project manager, “we took great steps that we didn’t repeat it to anyone else.”
The selection committee also was careful not to “guide anyone, because we didn’t want to give anyone an unfair advantage,” said Melvin, who wasn’t present during the roof discussion with the Mortenson team.
Added Combs: “I can guarantee you, everybody had an equal shot at this job. Everybody.”
Steve Patterson, an adviser to the Rainiers who also served on the committee, said the formal clarification about roof coverage was “simply a pricing thing.”
“You can’t share propriety information, because that’s revealing a competitive advantage,” Patterson said. “So the reason behind the issuance of (the clarification) is that’s the only way to ask all three groups to give us a roof number without revealing where that information was coming from. It was an attempt to get information without revealing proprietary information about the roof.”
Despite what the meeting minutes or formal bidding clarification say, Combs said the committee never supported keeping the same amount of roof coverage.
“My recollection is that the RFP (Request for Proposal) didn’t specify anything about (roof coverage),” said Combs, after a reporter read to him the clarification detailing that requirement. “My recollection is we all wanted that roof to be gone. The roof made it kind of dark and dreary in there, and we didn’t want that cave-like feeling in Cheney anymore. We wanted it open.”
Both Artman and Combs also said that coverage of fan seating wasn’t traded to obtain better amenities for team offices, suites or other spaces that most fans won’t typically use.
“All of the (ballpark) improvements are fan-related,” Artman said. “It’s not an economic class thing. There isn’t any space in there that anyone doesn’t have access to.”
Lower-end single game tickets this season – from grass berm seating to grandstand seats – will cost from $7 to $13, with box seats running $25. Meanwhile, a host of new or enhanced premium seating and private club admissions, both sold in multi-game or season packages, cost from $696 to $3,600. And, new party suites start at $1,500 per game.
Artman acknowledged most fans won’t typically experience games in higher priced-premium seating or suites.
“But it’s not like there’s a caste system of products that only certain fans can use,” he said. “All of this is available to all of our regular fans.”
Artman also noted that the “conference center” he is quoted as referencing in minutes of the meeting with the Mortenson team was a planned feature that never made it into the final ballpark design. The new stadium does feature a smaller team conference room.
ON FAST TRACK
Because the city was on a fast track to renovate the ballpark, the design-build bid process – an alternative contracting process – was used to solicit proposals from qualified contractors quickly to get construction under way, Combs said. The original solicitation requested an aggressive menu of ballpark amenities, leading all finalists to overbid the project’s budget. To meet budget and deadlines, the process had to be tweaked on the fly, Combs added. After opening initial bids in early January, the city issued a new request on Jan. 8 to all bidders, asking them to pare-down their initial designs.
“This was a thing of transition,” Combs said. “You’re designing on the move, and things change. So you’re not locked in on the roof or any one thing. You want to get the most for your dollar.”
The revised solicitation gave bidders six days to provide “an updated proposal” that had “to contain at minimum” a list of elements.
Roof coverage wasn’t specified, but records show that both losing bid teams still adhered to the previously stated roof specifications in the designs they submitted. Mortensen did not.
Mortenson’s bid was the superior choice, Patterson said, not only because of the design, but because “it very clearly defined a set of alternates we could take to get us to the budget.”
This season, fans can expect a drastically modernized Cheney Stadium compared to the aging pre-cast concrete ballpark built in three months in 1959.
The most notable difference is the new three-tiered superstructure built behind the original seating bowl. Among other amenities, it houses two elevators, a team store, 16 luxury suites, 3,200 square feet of team offices, a press box and the “Summit Club,” an expansive restaurant/lounge area.
“This is going to be used year-round for weddings and other special events,” said Combs.
Two new public art installations will complement features from the original ballpark, including its marbled “Hall of Fame” of Tacoma baseball.
Other features include three times as many “points of sale” for team-controlled concessions, twice as many restrooms, a new left field entrance, improved accessibility and seating for the disabled, and a general admission grass berm along the right field line that can hold 1,000 fans. Ticket price: $7.
There’s a new outfield fence, a visible bullpen beyond the left field wall, new team dugouts and clubhouses. And, for fans who want to get close to the action, there’s the new “Dugout Club,” an uncovered premium seating section behind home plate with 156 cushioned seats. Those seats, which sell for $3,600 per season, are sold out for 2011, a team spokeswoman said.
The remodel, approved by the City Council in 2009, is covered by a $28 million city bond issue and $2 million kicked in from the city’s sale of the County-City Building to Pierce County. Fans will largely cover the bond debt via revenues garnered from admission taxes and a $1 facilities fee added to each ticket. The nonprofit Cheney Foundation also has raised $5 million for the project.
In exchange for the upgrades, Schlegel Sports, the Rainiers’ Dallas-based ownership group, agreed to a long-term ballpark lease that would keep the Seattle Mariners’ minor-league affiliate playing in Tacoma through 2041. The deal hinged in part on the ballpark being ready by the 2011 season opener on April 15, or the city faces losing up to $500,000 – the amount the team pays in annual rent.
“The goal is substantial completion by the (April 1) deadline,” said Melvin, the project manager.
Since renovations began, a group of local investors known as the Baseball Club of Tacoma has offered to buy the team. The offer is under review by the minor league Pacific Coast League and other officials, Artman said. Ballpark renovations have raised the team’s value, said Artman, though he declined to provide specifics of the purchase offer.
As for covered seating, Combs said the renovated ballpark provides a roof with about 60 percent of the coverage in the original stadium.
“And even if you had the rest of it, frankly it’s not going to do any good, because rain doesn’t fall vertically,” Combs added.
Still, when asked for the specific number of covered seats in the renovated ballpark versus the old one, the city provided calculations from the contractor’s architects “based upon if rain was falling vertically into the ballpark.”
The calculations show that, in all, about 2,040 seats will be covered in the revamped stadium. That number – which includes 268 new suite seats that previously didn’t exist and 724 grandstand seats under new provisional canopies – is 1,677 fewer than the number of covered seats calculated in the old Cheney Stadium.
When told that photographs of the renovated stadium’s main roof do not appear to cover the 996 grandstand seats that the architects’ calculations say it does, Melvin, the city’s project manger, responded: “Hmm well, as you know, pictures can sometimes be deceiving, right?”
The city also provided architectural schematics to show the coverage areas correspond with calculations.
Combs, who plans to retire and go into private consulting shortly after the ballpark project is complete, said the roof issue is a moot point.
“You don’t play baseball in the rain,” he said. “And if there’s a rain delay, the fans will now have a lot more options for covered areas they can go to.”
“Frankly, the roofline doesn’t make one bit of difference, because it’s a great ballpark,” added Combs, a longtime season-ticket holder. “It’s beautiful. The fans are going to love it. I don’t think they’re going to care if there’s a roof or not. We are getting one beautiful ballpark for $30 million, and we should be damn proud of it.”
Still, city officials thought roof coverage important enough last year, when Mortenson asked the project’s deadline to be pushed back two weeks to April 1. In return for the extension, the city received, among other added features, a canopy over some seating on the third base side.
“We’re glad we put that in,” Melvin said.