Copyright 2014 Madison Newspapers, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Historic Breese Stevens Field on Madison's near east side is about to get a dose of modern-day reality in the way of artificial turf.
The city is planning to start installing the synthetic grass in August and hopes to be done in time for the fall sports season, says Madison Parks spokeswoman Laura Whitmore.
The turf will hopefully allow the city to cash in on past renovations to the storied 4,000-seat, depressionera stadium, including projects in 2007 and 2009 to shore up the structure, replace the storm sewer, revamp the locker rooms and add a press box and a sound system.
"Breese Stevens Field has had millions of dollars of renovations over the last several years, so we want to make sure we can open up this historical and centrally located facility to more users," Whitmore said in an email. "Artificial turf will allow us to hold these sporting events or special events and not have to worry about the effects of weather and usage damaging the turf so much that the next user cannot be accommodated."
Benefits include lower maintenance costs, a longer sports season and fewer cancellations due to soggy conditions.
But artificial turf also tends to increase playing surface temperatures, makes for a harder field and may result in potentially toxic runoff.
The $1.2 million installation will be the first time a city-owned sports venue will abandon natural grass, and it will allow for grass-punishing users like the Madison Mustangs semi-pro football team, and its female counterpart the Madison Blaze, to coexist with more gentle users like the Madison Radicals ultimate Frisbee team.
The city hopes to draw to the field include both semi-pro and high school football, lacrosse and rugby.
Tiffany Loomis, co-owner of the Madison Blaze, says her team is excited about the possibility of adopting Breese Stevens as a home field. The team, whose season starts in April, is currently at the mercy of field availability at venues like Lussier and Mansfield stadiums, and the football field at Middleton High School.
"We don't have a home field," she says. "We take whatever we can get."
She says the permanent home field will help the team generate a fan base and draw media attention.
It will also bring in tourists.
"Playing in the heart of the city, right downtown, it'll bring a lot to offer for the teams that travel from Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas City to experience Madison," she says.
But Tim DeByl, owner and coach of the Radicals, is "on the fence" over the synthetic turf.
"From a player perspective, everybody prefers grass," DeByl says. "The rest of the league plays on turf fields and this is the only grass field left in our league. And all of the players from opposing teams and our team prefer it."
In a sport that involves diving grabs by substantially sized men ? one Radical measures 6-foot-7 ? the artificial surface can be a bit punishing.
"In general, after a game when you play on grass your body just feels a little better," DeByl said. "It's a softer surface."
But DeByle is also philosophical about the switch. With deep frost from the frigid winter promising a damp field when the spring melt comes, he's also concerned about game cancellations in the early season.
While the American Ultimate Disc League season's official kickoff is April 12, "I have to basically kind of force the league to not have us have a home game until May, at least."
The team's home opener on May 3 last year took place in damp weather on a field that was barely playable.
"It almost got canceled the day of the game just because the ground was still pretty saturated," he says.
He also understands the city's motivation.
"It's a great stadium," he says. "It's incredible. But also it gets used by us and soccer. That's about it. It sits empty a lot of the time. If you put turf in I think you're going to open it up to a lot more events."
And events mean money. DeByl says his group shelled out about $7,000 last year for nine games, which on average drew about 750 spectators. The fees included a base rate plus added charges for use of the press box, the PA system and other add-ons.
Whitmore says the turf will allow the city to bring in revenue, ramping up sports as well as bringing in entertainment events, like concerts, on days not booked by sports events.
"Also, it is no secret, Madison wants to bid on getting the high school state soccer championships back to the Capitol City," she adds.