By Phil Trexler
Beacon Journal staff writer
Ken Babby is continuing his transformation of Akron’s downtown minor-league baseball scene.
In the 15 months or so that he’s owned the ball club, Babby has changed the team’s name to the RubberDucks, installed a new scoreboard hailed as the best in Double-A leagues, spruced up the concourses and brought a renewed interest to the 17-year-old franchise.
On Tuesday, Babby took another step in revamping Canal Park. Come April 10, when the RubberDucks open their home season, fans will see the culmination of $5.6 million in changes to the old ballpark.
Fans will not, however, see a rise in the ticket prices for regular seating. They will stay at $5 and $9.
Taxpayers also shouldn’t feel the pinch since the construction costs, as outlined in an agreement when Babby bought the team, are paid through the team’s lease payments to the city.
“This is all about affordable, family fun,” Babby told reporters Tuesday. “Minor-league baseball is the epicenter of the community and Canal Park is our home.”
The centerpiece of the changes is a Main Street-facing restaurant called The Game, which will be open year-round serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Unlike the previous restaurants that were housed on the ballpark’s second level, The Game will be street-level on Main Street near East State Street. It is scheduled to open March 22.
In the upper-level area, where several failed restaurants once operated, the team will open the Duck Club, which will be available for special events and private parties. The standard stationary windows will be replaced with sliding glass windows that open to the field and allow fans to be closer to the action.
New for 2014 will be picnic-area seating sections along the outfield foul poles.
To accommodate the changes, about 1,400 seats were removed along the foul line in deep left field. Beyond right field, the aluminum, rarely occupied bleacher seats close to the foul poles, will be removed.
In left field, the aptly named Fowl Territory will offer two rows of premium seating with 360-degree swivel seats, special menus and a wait staff who will serve food to fans.
The Fowl Territory section will also offer 50 picnic tables that can be rented by corporations or families. An all-you-can-eat food option will also be available.
In right field, the Tiki Terrace will have 191 picnic seats. The area offers a tiki bar that seats 23 people.
The construction work will be performed, Babby said, by local laborers working for local companies.
G. Stephens Inc., whose namesake Glen Stephens has headed ballpark construction since its opening 17 years ago, will serve as construction project manager.
Pete Popovic of Stephens Inc. will serve as senior project manager
“It’s not just baseball,” Stephens said. “For us, it’s construction, it’s jobs.”
When Babby bought the club after the 2012 season, he promised $3.5 million in ballpark upgrades. He also signed a 25-year lease to keep the team in Akron.
Mayor Don Plusquellic playfully said during the news conference that Babby broke his financial promise by upping the changes to $5.6 million.
“He really, literally, has worked nonstop since he came here to improve this facility and make it this family friendly, wonderful, exciting place to have affordable fun and enjoyment right here in downtown Akron,” Plusquellic said.