Proposed Mets’ ballpark similar to Ebbets Field

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NEW YORK (AP) – With an eye on the future, New York Mets officials stirred up the past on Thursday when they unveiled a stadium design reminiscent of Ebbets Field, the storied home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

One day after the City Council approved several key aspects of an $800 million stadium for the Yankees, Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and team officials announced plans at Shea Stadium for a new Mets home to be built in the parking lot of the existing ballpark.

Mets owner Fred Wilpon, a Brooklyn native, has long desired a new home for his team that evokes memories of the glory days of the Dodgers, who moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Eight years ago, Wilpon unveiled a design for an Ebbets Field-type ballpark for the Mets, but it wasn’t until last summer that city officials and the team agreed on a plan to replace Shea Stadium.

“This is a historic and rather emotional occasion,” a choked-up Wilpon said on Thursday as he recalled visiting Ebbets Field with his father as a young boy.

He predicted the new facility would be a “world class ballpark that, through its unique design, links the past with the future.”

Bloomberg called it a “21st-century field of dreams. No doubt about it, it’s a grand slam for all baseball fans and all New Yorkers.”

Although the planned stadium still requires a spectrum of regulatory approval, Mets officials hope to put their team on a new field by 2009 – the same year the Yankees expect to be playing in a new home in the Bronx.

The Yankees plan has encountered substantial criticism for its takeover of public park land, but Mets officials predicted they would not face similar opposition because their new stadium will go up on a parking lot they already own.

The new ballpark in Queens will have a capacity of 45,000, down from the current 57,333, officials said. The seats will be a little wider and provide more leg room. Also, there will be more luxury suites, rest rooms and restaurants.

Wilpon’s son and the team’s chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon, said the current stadium rarely sells out and that downsizing is one way to drive up demand and improve ticket sales. He also said the new venue is not likely to retain the Shea name, and that the team is looking for a naming rights partner.

Shea, which opened in 1964 at a cost of just $25.5 million, was originally set to be called Flushing Meadow Park but ended up with its name in honor of William Shea, an attorney who led the campaign to bring National League baseball back to New York City after the Dodgers and Giants left.

The Mets are paying $550 million for the new digs and the city is expected to kick in $90 million in capital funds, officials said. The state will provide $75 million for infrastructure improvements around the stadium.

AP-ES-04-06-06 1532EDT

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