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Chris Bothe and Wendy Armitage have held the same sweet season tickets for the St. Paul Saints since the team's first year in 1993 - four seats in the first row of Midway Stadium, right behind home plate.
But when the Saints open their new downtown ballpark in 2015, Bothe and Armitage and their guests will be watching instead from behind the third-base dugout.
That's because their home-plate seats will cost more than twice as much in the $63 million, publicly subsidized ballpark despite years of pledges from team officials that ticket prices wouldn't go up there.
"We decided not to pay the higher rate, so we're disappointed," said Bothe, a St. Paul attorney. "This is a situation where Saints' ownership is trying to maximize revenue any way they can, and they weren't making enough revenue in the seats behind home plate."
The price of adult season tickets for the 50-game home season will go up in other sections of the new ballpark as well, although not as much.
Upper-level seats behind home plate will cost 39 percent more, and tickets in the remaining infield section will cost 24 percent more. Season tickets for outfield seating will see a 9 percent hike.
The highest-priced season tickets, costing $3,500, will be for club level seating - something Midway doesn't offer.
The Saints typically discount season tickets for youths, seniors and charter ticket holders like Bothe.
But his prime seats, directly behind home plate, listed at $550 per ticket this year, will cost $1,225 in the new ballpark. And the team isn't discounting those seats.
Saints' General Manager Derek Sharrer said that although it will cost more to sit in the lower level behind home plate at the new ballpark than at Midway, the new "Capitol Box" section will feature comfortably wide and padded seats and come with a wait staff to boot.
"Behind home plate will be a premium experience that hasn't existed at Midway Stadium," Sharrer said. "What we've done to reconcile that is to work hard to find comparable experiences in the new ballpark that can be offered for the same price."
"Yes, you can get seats at the same price," Bothe said. "But they aren't anywhere comparable to what they were before."
The price hike comes despite statements by Saints co-owner Mike Veeck and Executive Vice President Tom Whaley to the Star Tribune in recent years that prices wouldn't go up in the new ballpark.
Several Minnesota Vikings fans expressed consternation last month when they learned that they will have to pay $500 to $9,500 for seat licenses in the team's new publicly subsidized $1 billion stadium, in addition to season ticket prices ranging from $50 to $400 per game.
In the case of both the Vikings stadium and the Saints ballpark, public funding will cover most of the construction cost. St. Paul, which will own the ballpark, has taken pains to describe it as a regional facility that also will host amateur sports and community events.
Compared with the Vikings and other major league sports in the Twin Cities, Saints' games - which feature a nun giving massages and a pig delivering baseballs to umpires - will remain relatively affordable in the new ballpark.
While the prices of season tickets are going up, Sharrer said the cost for single-admission seats, now $6 to $22 for adults, will be $5 to $28 per ticket in the new ballpark (not including youth and senior discounts).
More than 100 charter season-ticket holders, including Bothe, attended an event on Feb. 17 hosted by the Saints to choose their seats for the 2015 season, where the team first unveiled a seating chart and disclosed ticket prices for the 7,000-seat ballpark, which will begin construction this spring. Midway Stadium has 5,800 seats.
'A real shock'
Sharrer said that about two-thirds of the 80 to 90 charter season-ticket holders so far have secured seats in the new ballpark. He noted that prices for charter ticket holders haven't been raised for more than 10 years.
The price structure "was very well-received by the lion's share of those in attendance," he said. "Certainly there were a few who were very unhappy."
One of them was Peter Boehm of Falcon Heights, who like Bothe has had four seats behind home plate since the team's first season. Boehm vigorously opposed the team's move from Midway.
"For years they've been saying that when we move to a new ballpark, we'll stay the same family fun we've always been and our prices are not going to go up," said Boehm, a retired typesetter.
Boehm favored a new stadium at the Midway site, which he said offers room for tailgating while avoiding downtown traffic problems. Nevertheless, he put down a refundable $200 deposit on home plate tickets.
Bothe opted for four seats just behind the third-base dugout, which he got for his discounted charter rate of $445 per ticket - the price he was paying for home plate seats.
Sharrer said it would be impossible for the Saints to replicate its Midway experience at the new ballpark, even if it wanted to do so.
"Quite frankly, it will be a lot better," he said. "The heart and soul will be the same, the experience will be better and the price will be comparable."
Kevin Duchschere · 651-925-5035