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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Friday, May 3, 2013

More from Nick Sakiewicz on PPL Park changes

In my sit down with him Wednesday, Nick Sakiewicz made a couple of things painfully clear. First, he and his ownership group were taking nothing for granted in trying to improve the viewing experience of fans at PPL Park. Second, any changes would be made with the soccer experience and the best interest of the fans in mind.

Here's a little more of what the Union CEO and Operating Partner had to say.

On the possibility of seat expansion at PPL Park:
"I think the seat expansion part is a little bit out there in the further timeline. What we’re looking at right now are some entertainment amenities. Suites, we’re virtually out of suites, so we’re looking at a concept there to build out more suites and different types of offerings. We’re looking at things outside the stadium in Toyota Plaza in terms of some hospitality options that are new and different. We’re looking at the section behind the sons of Ben, which is the roof of that building, was footed and designed and beefed up to accommodate either a restaurant or a party deck or something, so we’re exploring that option"

On preserving the river view:
"One thing is for sure that we don’t want to elevate too high on that end because the river, the bridge have become iconic symbols of our brand, so I don’t think they’ll ever be a big wall masking those visuals there. So we’re exploring ideas of maybe a second club in that area, but the seating expansion, the growth of the seating, is off a ways."

On soliciting the input of fans:
"We designed the stadium with them, and that section of the stadium was designed by their core group of leadership. Originally, the entire bowl was contiguous, and as they became bigger, we actually spent a lot of money redesigning the south end of the stadium with them to accommodate their needs. It would be inconceivable for us to go away from that best practice which I think, no owner in sports gets together with his fans to design their stadium. We did that originally, and we’ll continue to do that. That’s an important end of the stadium in terms of the environment and the atmosphere that is created. We talk to their leadership two or three times a week. But we do confer with their leadership and talk about how we can do things down in that end."

On timelines for improvements:
"There’s no set dates because we’re evaluating the feasibility. So once we decide the feasibility is a go – and part of that feasibility is design, cost estimating, timeline of construction; we’re very mindful of not creating a big mess. We don’t want to be in construction in the middle of our season. We’re looking at all that right now. We’ve engaged some professional consultants to work with us on cost and design, and we’re working through that. Once we get through that and we understand, ‘yes we can do it; yes it makes financial sense; let’s pull the trigger,’ then we’ll have more of a timeline. My personal goal is I would like to have one or more of those projects put out there next year for the fans to enjoy, but that’s all going to depend on cost and feasibility."

On where he wants to see the stadium in 10 years:
"Close to 30,000. The next 10 years of all that is going on with soccer in this country and the growth and addition of teams in our league, I just look at the league and the competitiveness and the quality is sensational. You have your big star players coming into this league and perform and have to bring their A game. The quality in where this is going and the kids that are growing up passionate about the game, the next 10 years are going to be fun and that is going to fuel our growth. So as we begin to form waiting lists for seating sections and have seating demand, what’s great about the way we design this place is that we have ways to expand it in pockets, in waves, in phases if you will, in a thoughtful way. But one thing I’m very mindful of is to make sure that this place never loses its special intimacy and character. Bricks and mortar and drywall and furniture and fixtures are all the same everywhere. But I think what makes this place special is the way the seating is set up. It feels very intimate, there’s not a bad seat in the house and it’s built for soccer. The last thing we want to do with any kind of improvement is damage any of that, and that takes thought."

On balancing non-soccer events:
"Always mindful of that, but his stadium was built for soccer, it will always be for soccer and it will never be changed to no have soccer as its primary purpose. It’s great that other sports come here and they think it’s a great place to play rugby or lacrosse of American football or whatever we put in here, and we’ll always be mindful of that and think about if a football team comes here to play, how do we accommodate their players, how to we accommodate their press? But this is a soccer stadium. And it was built for that purpose."

On plans for redevelopment in the Chester waterfront area:
"I think over the years you’ve seen the real estate around here start to look better. It took about 50-some odd years to destroy this waterfront. It’s going to take not that but more than a couple of years to redevelop that. But it's actually turned into a pretty good place to come to watch sports, to go to Harrah’s casino to watch horses and enjoy some entertainment there. Land is getting cleared. We’re taking down the old stuff and putting up some new stuff. My partners in the real estate business have their eye on this location and there’s been different discussions about what to put here. The economy is still, I wouldn’t say it’s a tough economy because it’s coming around, but developers are still very cautious. And there’s a lot of competition. There’s a lot of communities in South Jersey, in Wilmington, D.C. Baltimore and New York that are competing very heavily for the development dollar. We think we have a great place here, but it’s going to take some time. There are discussions, there are ideas, there are concepts, but no definitive plans yet."

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