Monday, May 1, 2023

A Missed Opportunity

The original plan for Citi Field called for a retractable dome roof. But it was cheaper for the Wilpons to build their new stadium without one.

When the Mets have an important series disrupted by the whims of Mother Nature, I often think back to the original concept of the Mets' new ballpark which included a dome that retracted out over the parking lot when not in use. Apparently, I'm not the only one. Jon Heyman wrote a piece for the New York Post yesterday promoting the idea of Steve Cohen shelling out a large chunk of change to add a retractable roof to Citi Field. I really wish that he would, but I understand that it's incredibly unlikely to happen.

A bit of background here. When Fred and Jeff Wilpon were pushing for a replacement for Shea Stadium in the late 1990s, their plans called for a stadium with a retractable roof. This concept was thought to combine the best of both worlds. In nice weather, the dome could be open and baseball could be played in the manner that it's been since its creation — outside. In bad weather, the dome could be closed and games could go on.

People who had tickets to games against the Braves this weekend could have shown up to the ballpark with full confidence that they would be watching a baseball game. Opening Day would have been able to be played as scheduled. There would be no need to force fans and ballplayers to endure weather conditions better suited for hockey than for baseball, like those cold, raw days when the wind coming off of Flushing Bay feels like it's blowing straight out of the Arctic.

According to Heyman's piece, Steve Cohen has investigated the possibility of adding a roof. The estimate he received was around $800,000,000. While Cohen has hardly been tight-fisted since taking over this franchise, spending around a billion dollars on fixing the Wilpon's mistake is likely to be a bit rich even for his blood. Of course, if Fred and Jeff had just stuck to the plan, that roof would have been much cheaper. According to Heyman:
Sources suggest the Wilpons did investigate a roof back in 2007 when they were conceiving of Citi Field and found it would cost an additional $100 million to $125 million back then. I’m not here to bash the Wilpons. They did know their real estate, and Citi Field is one of the best of the newer parks in baseball (say what you want about the Wilpons, but they succeeded with their TV endeavor, SNY, and they did know their real estate, which was their main business)...
For those bad at math, the cost is about seven times that now. Forget inflation, which isn’t low, the bigger issues are many, including retrofitting the roof to fit the existing structure and fortifying the land, which is said to be soft.

Should Cohen decide to go for it, the work on this roof would have to take place in the winter, which, while certainly doable, would only add an extra layer of difficulty to the project. I lack the expertise to know whether it was feasible to do this thing in a single winter, but I would tend to doubt it. So you're talking about a multi-year project. That would only increase the likelihood that the final outlay would be even higher than that $800 million estimate.

Steve Cohen has written some very large checks to give Mets fans something to cheer about. That scoreboard that he added to Citi Field this year has caused me to seriously question if I couldn't fit a bigger tv into our living room. (Lisa assures me that we can't.) Although the club is far from perfect this season, Cohen certainly went above and beyond what a fan could ask for from an owner to field a team that has a chance to win it all. But I can't blame him if he takes a pass on the idea of a retractable roof. And that's too bad.

There was a time when I was such a purist I would have sniffed at the idea of any sort of roof on a baseball stadium. And honestly, there is no substitute for spending a sunny summer day or a warm, dry evening in a completely open-air ballpark. To my mind, there is no finer game experience in all of sports fandom.

But I also speak as someone who lives quite a distance from New York City in West Central Connecticut. If I am to attend a game, it involves taking a day off from work, getting in my car, and driving 45 minutes to an hour to the train station in Fairfield. Then I take a train ride to the city that takes upwards of 1-1/2 hours. Then it's the long subway ride on the 7 train from Grand Central Terminal out to the ballpark. That all really sucks when they call the game late and you find out it was all for basically nothing.

While every fan experience is different, spending a day or evening at the ballpark requires a level of commitment for everyone. Taking a family out to a game requires a great deal of preparation and effort. Whether you took time off from work or passed on a chance to do something else on game day, it's a big disappointment when Mother Nature spoils your plans.

This is why I can appreciate that the Mets under Cohen's ownership are willing to call games much earlier, even if it occasionally backfires, as on Opening Day. Cohen is willing to forego making a few bucks by forcing fans into the ballpark before calling a game. But it still rankles a little that the Wilpons missed an opportunity to weatherproof the new ballpark they built. Absorbed into the overall cost of building Citi Field, that extra $125 million would have only represented a bit more debt financed.

There really aren't enough rainouts in New York to warrant Steve Cohen spending close to a billion on a roof, but financing $125 million or so back when the field was built should have been a no-brainer. Remember, construction on the park began in 2006 — two and a half years before Madoff's Ponzi Scheme unraveled. It would have been worth it to ensure all home games were played as scheduled. I'm sure the Mets lost some serious money this weekend on the series against the Braves, with 2 rainouts and a single-admission doubleheader. But weekends like this just don't scream out for a billion-dollar fix. has some more photos of the proposed ballpark, including a more modern take on the proposed dome created later than the original proposal.

Please be well and take care. Let's go Mets!

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