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Fenway Park continues to get facelift

Fenway Park continues to get facelift

BOSTON -- Venerable Fenway Park has a unique way of getting younger even as it gets older. The Red Sox on Thursday unveiled their Year VIII improvements that will be ready for the 2009 season. In fact, the changes are well under way.

"We are in the eighth inning of a nine-inning game with respect to the enhancement and improvements to Fenway Park," said Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino. "We have, since the first day our group was constituted, [principal owner] John Henry, [chairman] Tom Werner and the leadership and our limited partnership as well have been dedicated to preserving, protecting and enhancing and prolonging the life of Fenway Park. This is year eight, or inning eight, depending on how you like to look at it, of this long-term effort."

But even if renovations are in what Lucchino refers to as the late innings, Fenway Park, which will turn 100 years old in 2012, will house the Red Sox for perhaps decades to come.

"We are committed to Fenway Park -- short-term, middle-term, long-term," said Lucchino. "We're going to be here. No thought has been -- or is being given -- to a new ballpark. The thought is to complete the renovations and improvements of Fenway Park and then move on and make modest improvements from time to time on various issues going forward."

As for the latest improvements, the lower seating bowl, which stretches from the first-base line to behind home plate and all the way to the third-base line, is being spruced up significantly. There are currently no seats in that entire area, as contractors and architects repair and waterproof it.

"What we're doing downstairs is being done to a standard that will take it another 35 to 50 years," said Janet Marie Smith, the senior vice president of planning and development for the Red Sox. "The waterproofing material itself has a 20-year warranty on it. It's being done to new ballpark standards."

The red box seats in that area -- built in the 1970s -- will be replaced. The new seats will have cushions and drink-holders.

The wooden grandstands won't be replaced, but will be refurbished to be more comfortable.

Another big change will be the dramatic enhancement of roof-box seats in right field, which were originally installed as temporary seats in the 1980s, but somehow stayed for 25 years.

"When we reviewed the plans for the right-field roof that we are disassembling now, we couldn't help but note with some irony that they were temporary drawings," said Smith. "They were never intended to be there 25 years. No wonder the materials were folding at the corners. This is an important thing for us to be able to remedy."

There will be 560 seats built in that area to replace the 383 seats that are in the process of being removed. Lucchino estimated that, including some extra standing-room seats and barstools, it would create about 350 additional tickets per game. Fenway Park's seating capacity -- 39,928 -- will remain the same.

"But there will be additional tickets for sale," Lucchino said. "Three hundred to 350 additional tickets over those that we had for sale this year, recognizing there is extraordinary demand for Red Sox tickets. Each year, we try to add additional inventory."

From the Monster Seats to the more expansive concourses to the Right Field roof deck to the EMC club, there have been improvements and additions at Fenway each year since 2002.

"I'm certainly glad that we are in the closing innings of this gigantic undertaking," Lucchino said. "I would add that doesn't mean after we complete this there won't be more discreet projects that come up from time to time afterwards. But this large undertaking that we embarked on the first day we got here will be coming to its closure."

Architecturally speaking, Fenway is now sound for the foreseeable future.

"There's no reason they couldn't play here for generations to come," said Smith. "This park, when we're complete with waterproofing we're completing this year and anticipate doing next year, we'll have virtually then rebuilt to a standard like the new ballparks. There's no reason it should become physically obsolete as long as the team continues to care for it. It's just a question of whether it will be economically obsolete."

Though Smith was on the ground floor alongside Lucchino when Camden Yards was built, she remains an avid supporter of preserving Fenway.

"I guess my crystal ball, though never very clear, tells me that Fenway has survived the dome era, has survived the multipurpose era," said Smith. "It's back again. Everyone is doing things that mimic Fenway. Hopefully that's a good test that a baseball-only park, one that is really designed to really celebrate the quirks that are the game of baseball, have a great chance of surviving."

How long much longer can Fenway Park last?

"We ask that question a lot to our contractors and our architects and the answers that we get are 30 to 40 years, perhaps more," said Lucchino.

How about economically?

"That remains to be seen," Lucchino said. "I think it's the little engine that could and it has proven to be that in the last several years in particular. We think it can continue to be as long as it is full of passionate Red Sox fans."

In addition to the lower seating and right field, the Red Sox are also doing repairs on the roof of Jeano Building, which is next door to Fenway and is home to the Red Sox front offices, the Jordan's Third Base Deck, the Third Base Concourse, and the popular restaurant Game On!.

"We are always focused on enhancing Fenway Park with the fan experience as a top priority," said Smith.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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