The owners of the Ottawa Titans are delivering their own version of a changeup at the professional baseball team’s ballpark – in the form of a major makeover of Ottawa Stadium. The independent Frontier League franchise announced last week it was preparing to launch the next phase of its 10-year plan to revitalize the east-end […]The owners of the Ottawa Titans are delivering their own version of a changeup at the professional baseball team’s ballpark – in the form of a major makeover of Ottawa Stadium. The independent Frontier League franchise announced last week it was preparing to launch the next phase of its 10-year plan to revitalize the east-end park, which opened in 1993 as the home of the Montreal Expos’ Triple-A affiliate, the Ottawa Lynx. The Lynx left town in 2007 after 15 seasons at the stadium on Coventry Road. While a number of teams in various leagues have called the park home since then, upgrades to the fan experience have been few and far between – as the owners of the Titans found out when they signed a 10-year deal to lease the facility from the city in 2020. “Despite doing a tour, you never really know what condition things are in,” says Regan Katz, the club’s vice-president and chief operating officer. “It’s a building that just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Unfortunately, it looked its age.” Katz said the Titans have already made a “substantial investment” to modernize the city-owned facility – for example, giving it a new paint job, repairing sections of its concrete infrastructure and doing various other touch-ups. But the real work has just begun. The club is completely rebuilding the third-floor suites for the 2024 season, for example, tearing out a wall to replace two smaller rooms with a new, 40-person suite and giving a full refresh to nine other suites, which will each have a capacity of 16 people. Down the road, the club aims to revamp the stadium’s second floor, which originally had 23 private suites that have been closed in recent years after falling into a state of “disrepair,” as Katz put it. Initial plans call for fewer than half that number of suites on the renovated second level as the team looks to provide more spacious amenities. And in an effort to attract casual fans who are as much into socializing as watching the action on the diamond, the Titans also plan to tear out some of the outfield seats along the first- and third-base lines and replace them with “patio decks” – which Katz describes as open areas for “standing and mingling” with others. Katz says the team will gauge fan interest in the spaces before determining their size, but he envisions areas with a capacity of between 50 and 150 people suitable for events such as corporate gatherings and family get-togethers. The changes will be rolled out over the next several years, with the second-floor suites likely to be next up on the docket. Other upgrades include the Hop Yard, a “meet-and-greet area” along the third-base line that opened this past season where fans could sit at picnic tables and sample suds from local craft breweries Beau’s, Stray Dog and Vimy. The cost of the renovations is approaching the million-dollar mark, with much more to come, Katz says. “It’s certainly a lot more (money) than was anticipated when we started the process,” he adds. Still, the veteran baseball executive is optimistic that the changes will generate more buzz at the turnstiles in the coming seasons. Home attendance at Titans games jumped from an average of about 1,200 in the team’s inaugural season in 2022 to just under 1,600 this year, as a total of more than 81,000 fans made their way to the ballpark over 51 home dates. Katz says the club is aiming to draw an average of at least 2,000 fans next season, which would put it solidly in the middle of the pack in the 16-team Frontier League’s attendance rankings. “Overall, we’re quite pleased with the growth that we’ve seen,” he says. “I feel like we’ve climbed the hill a fair bit and made some great strides. It’s just a matter of spreading the word.” Even still, the park sits empty more than 300 days a year. Titans majority owner Sam Katz and his business partners at the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group are hoping to change that by attracting more non-baseball events such as concerts. Regan Katz says the club has stepped up its effort to extol the park’s virtues to music promoters. The stadium hosted a concert earlier this year and will be the site of a hip-hop festival next month, but Katz says the Titans have received “many, many inquiries regarding the opportunities at the venue for future years” and expect the park to host more than a dozen non-baseball events in 2024. The stadium’s 10,300-seat capacity – by far the largest in the Frontier League – is both a blessing and a curse, Katz explains. “The park was built too large for the Lynx. It was too large for every team that followed and it still has too many seats for what we’re seeking to accomplish,” he says. “On the positive side, its size attracts a lot of outside baseball opportunities, which is part of our business model.” Katz believes the owners of previous teams that occupied the stadium didn’t really grasp its potential as a multi-use facility. “This venue has been off the map for events that were not baseball for pretty much its entire existence,” he says. “We now have those inquiries coming for various festivals and concerts and other shows that would fit our size of venue. It’s become a big part of our plan and our efforts to try and get (the stadium) back on the map and show off what it’s capable of. “The sky’s the limit for opportunities. It’s just a matter of locking some in and then trying to find those annual events that can make sure that it stays an attraction point.” In a further drive to boost revenues, the Titans are seeking a new naming rights partner for the stadium to replace the previous rights-holder, Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton. “We’ve had plenty of dialogue with plenty of potential (sponsors),” Katz says. “We have not put anything to paper yet.” Two years into the Titans’ existence, the ownership group remains confident it can succeed where past franchises have failed. “We absolutely believe in our model,” Katz says. “Based on our first two years here, there’s no question there’s space for (professional baseball) in Ottawa. It’s had ups and downs as any new start does, but I certainly feel like we’re on the right path.”
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