The Kane County Cougars Tuesday announced a major capital improvement project that will include a new high-definition video board, special seating and a permanent music pavilion in time for next season at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva.
Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the franchise, the Cubs' Class A affiliate. Cougars owner Bob Froehlich said he wants to mark the occasion by improving the stadium for fans, players and the local community.
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For Cougars fans, the team is pairing up with 4Topps Premium seating to construct a restaurant-like option to watch the game from the lower-seating bowl behind home plate. It will have waitress service for individuals and groups. A table with four seats will cost $90. Food and drink are extra. Froehlich said he saw a similar seating plan at work at the West Michigan Whitecaps stadium.
"Think of a half moon-shaped table with four swivel seats," Froehlich said. "It's just been a real popular seating option for them, and we thought we'd like to try it hear to give our fans a different way to experience the game and keep them happy. The fans are our lifeblood."
Adding to the experience for fans will be a new video screen that will be high definition and allow for game replays for the first time and stand about three times the size of the current screen.
"It will be a really nice gee-whiz for the fans," Froehlich said.
The Cougars will also construct a permanent music pavilion for the Ballpark Concert Series, as well as nongame day events. Froehlich said he expects to double the game-day concerts with as many as 10 shows next season. There will also be two or three nongame day concerts in response to what fans already seem to be demanding.
"This season we've actually had people buy game tickets and only stay for the concerts," Froehlich said. "So our thought is not to try to be the next Ravinia, but when the team is on the road in the summer maybe we can start attracting the local Chicago bands. We'll walk before we run. We're pretty good at running a baseball team, but not at running a music garden. So we'll do two or three nongame shows and see how the community responds."
For the players, the stadium will add a new climate-controlled batting cage built to the Cubs' specifications, complete with two hitting tunnels. It will also house a second weight room and a state-of-the-art video room.
"We're going all out with this batting cage," Froehlich said. "It's what the players want and what the players need. Our current batting cage is on par with most minor league teams, but we want to be on top."
Indeed, Froehlich said keeping the a positive relationship with the Cubs moving forward was a major motivation of the stadium upgrades.
"It's the major league teams that decide if they are going to stay with you or not stay with you," Froehlich said. "So you have to make sure you have a great facility to make them want to stay."
Even though the stadium is owned by the Kane County Forest Preserve District, all the upgrades will be financed with private dollars and without help from the Cubs. That's the good news for taxpayers. The good news for fans is that the cost of individual ticket and parking prices will not be raised for the 2015 season to help pay for any of the upgrades.
Construction will take two months in the fall and an additional month before the new season. Work can begin as soon as plans receive a stamp of approval from forest preserve district commissioners and the Cougars end their playoff run. The Cougars ended their most successful regular season in history Monday, and take a 91-49 record -- the best in the minor leagues -- into their playoff opener Wednesday at Wisconsin. The first home game is 6 p.m. Thursday.
"We will begin construction the day after they win the championship," Froehlich said. "It's been a great season this year, but the fans haven't seen anything yet. Next year will be an even better experience at the ballpark."