NEW YORK “About two and a half years ago, when we were looking at designing the new ballpark, a lightbulb kind of went off in my head. And I said, how can we design these spaces so that we can utilize them more than 81 times a year?” said Mike Landeen, vice president of venue services for the New York Mets, last week. Citi Field, the new home of the Major League Baseball team, officially debuts on April 13, and Landeen is just a few weeks away from seeing his ideas come to fruition.
The 1.4 million-square-foot site is currently one of the city's biggest developments and, in terms of events, is a whole new ballgame for the Mets. It has an enormous 19,000-square-foot entrance hall, a 110,000-square-foot concourse that circles the field, a 20,000-square-foot outdoor area behind the scoreboard, and a 150-seat auditorium, all of which are offered on non-game days for business functions, trade shows, and private parties. And there are also fancy new concession stands, four different club areas, and a 350-seat restaurant overlooking left field.
The move toward a flexible event venue and a hospitality-driven facility wasn't a simple task. To do so Landeen worked closely with the architects for HOK Sport, the construction managers at Hunt-Bovis, and Mets executives such as chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon. The project also required some homework (visiting other stadiums for inspiration and ideas), a tight time line for a 2009 season opening, and strategic partnerships such as a long-term deal with food service giant Aramark and agreements with Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group and Drew Nieporent to run dining operations. But with previous experience at Shea Stadium, Landeen had a clear idea of what worked and what didn't. “I was there for 11 years, so I knew all the ins and outs, the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he said.
The end result is something that Landeen calls “drastically different” from Shea Stadium. Reminiscent of Ebbets Field and designed to be more intimate than Shea, Citi Field has 42,000 seats (15,000 less than Shea) and views onto the field from almost every angle. Ticketholders have access to a variety of food, including pulled pork sandwiches from Blue Smoke, pizza from an outpost of Cascarino's, and cannoli from Mama's of Corona, and those in the premium seats of the Delta Sky360 Club get upscale menus devised by Meyer's team. A miniature whiffle ball field, video game kiosk, dunk tank, and candy store entertain kids; adults have 15,000 square feet of retail space to shop for Mets merchandise.
Event planners have choices here, too. In addition to big areas such as the Jackie Robinson Rotunda entrance and the Mets Fanfest (home of the whiffle ball field), there are also places suited to small groups. The 39 different Empire Suites hold about 40 each, and two conference rooms and an adjacent business center have a total capacity for 35.
Landeen plans more post-opening upgrades. “We'll definitely make tweaks. We'll make changes. We'll have more and more, and we'll strive to get better and better and have more variety,” Landeen said. “Once we open this ballpark, we'll be looking at things and critiquing it and evaluating it and seeing what we can do. So no doubt, what we have now is just the beginning, and we'll be looking to doing much more in the future.”