Baseball park renovation includes shipping containers

The latest architectural trend is coming to Madison, and it’s going to combine two elements of childhood nostalgia: the Boxcar Children and baseball.

The Madison Mallards are planning serious upgrades for its Duck Blind area at its field at Warner Park, and they’re using 37 industrial shipping containers to do it.

Using upcycled steel intermodal shipping containers is the latest architectural trend, sometimes known as “cargotecture.” The containers were used to transport goods by ship, truck or rail in a past life, and are then used as building material, either as a whole or partial container. The Mallards will be using them to improve their Duck Blind seating and add 12 suites to the Blind.

The low-cost, widely available containers have been used to make micro-houses as a proposed solution to homelessness, and combined to create residences or shopping centers. They have been reimagined as pop-up coffee shops and concession stands and can be seen around the world as a co-working office space in Brazil, a cultural museum in China or a hip hostel in Vietnam.

They’re easy to ship, because that’s what they’re designed to do, and they stack and interlock. This will be Madison’s first permanent shipping container project.

“We always try to be on the cutting edge,” said Vern Stenman, Mallards president. “If you’re looking at the use of shipping containers building all kinds of things? It’s kind of crazy how much it’s taking off.”

Stenman’s company, Big Top Baseball, has used shipping containers as concession stands at Breese Stevens Field. Two portable shipping containers have served as a bar and a concession stand, but weren’t incorporated into the structure of the stadium. Stenman said the company received good feedback on the containers, and the Mallards decided to go with shipping containers because of their industrial, aesthetic and structural integrity the green advantage of utilizing reused materials.

Duck Blind tickets famously include a social environment with a menu of all-inclusive beer and food. But the current Duck Blind multilevel deck doesn’t provide a great view of the game, and there’s only seating for about half of the 755 people it can hold, Stenman said.

“It’s fair to say that probably less than half the capacity of the Duck Blind historically had a good view of the game,” he said.

In the Duck Blind, the concession building and Duck Blind Club will stay, but everything else will be demolished to make way for an improved general admission area and new Duck Blind Suites.

New, three-tiered general admission Duck Blind areas with better sight lines and additional seating will improve the game-watching experience, Stenman said. The 7,500-squarefoot area will hold 700 guests and run parallel to the foul line. It will connect at a perpendicular angle to the new four-level Duck Blind Suites.

The suites will be about 7,800 square feet and hold 500 guests. The second suite level offers indoor, climate-controlled space along with outside box seats. The third floor has indoor-outdoor patios with lounge furniture. And the fourth floor will host a rooftop suite with lounge furniture covered by an awning. The spaces will be rentable for groups of 20 to 225 people. Suite ticket-holders can sample an expanded menu including beer-cheese pretzel bites and prime rib sandwiches.

The 37 shipping containers, supplied by MODS International, will be used in the construction of both the general admission Duck Blind seating and the suites. The three tiers of general-admission seating will use the floors of industrial boxes (the sides and roofs of the boxes will be cut off) to make up the decks. The suites design calls for stacked shipping containers to create the bones of the building structure. For example, the second level will be made up of eight 40-foot shipping containers with the insides removed to create one large room.

The steel structure of the boxes will be exposed but painted a Mallards’ green. The floors of the containers, made of marine-grade plywood, will be finished and exposed for an industrial look.

“It will definitely be a different feel than people are used to,” Stenman said.

The improvements will be accompanied by slightly higher ticket prices: general admission Duck Blind all-you-can-eat tickets will increase by $2 to $32 on Fridays and Saturdays, and the all-inclusive beer tickets will see a $5 hike to $41. The all-inclusive beer tickets will go up $3 to $34 on other days of the week, but those not including beer will stay the same at $25.

Stenman hopes to present the plans before the Urban Design Commission by the end of January and to the Plan Commission by the end of February.

Construction is scheduled to begin in March and end in April. The nature of shipping containers makes a quick construction turnaround time of six to eight weeks possible. The containers will be opened up and modified in the MODS warehouse, meaning 60 to 70 percent of the work will be done before the containers arrive on site, Stenman said.

The project is estimated to cost $1 million, although Stenman noted that some of the labor and materials would be donated. The city of Madison owns the stadium.

“We’re building this project and then basically donating it to the city of Madison,” Stenman said.

Although the new seating will provide a better view of the game, the social aspect of the Duck Blind will remain, Stenman said.

“It’s always going to be a very social space, but at the same time, we want it to grow up a little bit,” Stenman said. “People are going to enjoy it even more than they have in the past.”- by Lisa Speckhard, The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)