Ballpark Quirks: Building bridges with Progressive Field in Cleveland

In this week's Ballpark Quirks, the Indians' Progressive Field takes a page from the city of Cleveland's bridges in its overall design.
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Stand on Ontario Street in Cleveland, just as the Progressive Field architects did, and you’ll see the same view: Bridges galore covering the flats of the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland’s well-known Terminal Tower historic skyscraper.

"Standing on Ontario Street, looking out over the flats, I counted 12 different bridges," Progressive Field architect Joe Spear said. "Lift bridges, draw bridges, bridges that are just beautiful structures. We wanted the structure of the ballpark to be very expressive and understandable like a bridge, with no cladding, no windows."

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To give Progressive Field that same bridge-like feel, the Indians used steel — painted a light color to stand out, Spear said — to clad the park. He then exposed even more of the structure with 19 signature vertical light stands, rising 200 feet above street level and 218 feet above the playing field.

"A guy on the street can look at a bridge and see how it is held up," Spear said. "We wanted the (Progressive Field) structure to be a major architectural component and help you understand the building."

Opened in 1994 with about 43,500 seats, Progressive Field sits next to Quicken Loans Arena, forming a "great wall of Cleveland" with Terminal Tower. But the Indians also wanted fans to feel comfortable inside the steel exterior. Offering wider aisles and elevations between rows for improved sight lines, seats are angled eight to 12 degrees, pointing eyes to the middle of the diamond.

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The retro-feel of the playing surface included an asymmetrical playing field on natural grass to pay homage to the fact that Cleveland has housed professional baseball since 1869.

At 20 years old, the Indians aren’t standing pat on Progressive Field, recently outlining renovation plans that will kick off this year. The effort includes turning unused upper-deck seating into a new viewing platform, remaking gate entrances to add an indoor-outdoor bar to rightfield, moving the elevated bullpens to create better bullpen viewing, and new premium seating and enhancing the concession opportunities.

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The planned changes, though, won't detract from the overall aesthetic of Progressive Field, one that Spear hopes reminds fans of the city's bridges, a direct tie to the city of Cleveland.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.