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Thinking Inside the Box, Fans Find Luxury Sweet

Customers seem happy with Dodger Stadium's new seating, unlike last year's reviled renovation.

April 01, 2006|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

With padded seats, food and drinks on the table in front of him, and the field a few feet away, Ron Eshel gave the Dodgers' new luxury boxes thumbs up.

"The only thing they're missing is umbrellas," Eshel said as rain dampened Dodger Stadium before Friday's Freeway Series game against the Angels.

The Dodgers unveiled new luxury seats last year too, in the same location, beyond the dugouts at field level. That turned into a disaster, with fans complaining that the team crammed too many seats into too tight a space, at angles that virtually guaranteed a strained neck in order to watch the game.

"You had to look over 50 people to see anything," said Eshel's friend, Josh Herman.

So, after the Dodgers spent $20 million on a renovation that included putting in the seats, they spent $20 million on another renovation that included tearing them out and starting over. Herman renewed his seats this season and called the new section "amazing." Eshel canceled his seats but said he would consider signing up again.

"They did a heck of a job," Eshel said. "They more than corrected the problem."

The Dodgers reduced seating capacity in the area from 1,200 to 700, creating enough room to add tables in individual boxes, similar to those at the Hollywood Bowl.

In one box, Herb Zebrack and his group unpacked a picnic dinner and set it out on a Dodger blue tablecloth.

"Last year, I was so unhappy with the seats, I went to three games," he said.

But Zebrack signed up again, in large part because owner Frank McCourt offered fans in those sections the chance to renew at last year's price of $70 per ticket rather than this year's price of $100 per ticket. Zebrack's wife, Paulette, called the new seats "wonderful."

McCourt said the renovations are about ensuring the viability of Dodger Stadium by adding modern amenities while restoring what he called the "history and tradition and greatness of this wonderful facility."

If some amenities are all about generating revenue, such as those luxury seats, McCourt isn't apologizing.

"There are people who want to pay whatever it takes to get the so-called beachfront property," he said.

But he said he was "committed to affordability," noting the Dodgers sell a top-deck season ticket for $3 per game. The renovations extended beyond the beachfront property, with the Dodgers replacing every seat in the stadium bowl, restoring the original 1962 pastel color scheme and adding cup holders. The Dodgers also added a picnic area on the loge level, next to a new merchandise shop and concession stands selling water for $5.50 per bottle and domestic beer at $8 per cup.

McCourt called the latest renovations the second phase of a project he said would be completed in "five or six phases." He said he had not decided what renovations would take place next winter, although documents the Dodgers filed last year at Los Angeles City Hall described six more suites, two more stadium clubs, expanded concession and restroom facilities, a new sound system, additional escalators and elevators, valet parking, new clubhouses and a new press box.

When McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2004, he said he would rebuild the team and the stadium before considering development on the surrounding parking lot.

But the original stadium renovation plans included a two-year timeline, and McCourt said he would not rule out development during a five- or six-year renovation project.

The picnic area can seat about 100. If fans utilize the area and/or groups rent it for pregame parties, McCourt said he would build more in other sections of the ballpark.

Tracy Boydston, an Angel fan, ate at one of the Dodgers' picnic tables Friday.

"They're trying to copy the Angels," Boydston said. "The Angels have a patio area. The Dodgers are following winners. But they've done a nice job."

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