HOUSTON -- The Astros have received preliminary approval from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority on their plans for a $15 million renovation to Minute Maid Park that would include the removal of Tal's Hill in center field and moving the flag poles so they're no longer in play.
Astros owner Jim Crane thanked the Sports Authority for their support at a meeting Thursday morning, and he said the renovation project would begin as soon as the season ends and would be finished in time for the 2016 season. The renovations would include more fan-friendly areas in center field.
The Astros hope to eventually open a Hall of Fame beyond center field or in Union Station, but that's not part of the $15 million plan that's been approved. The Astros will fund the project.
"We've been working for some time to look at how we can improve the ballpark, and we've gone through a number of renovations, including the diamond club, the club level, the locker rooms, the offices," Crane told MLB.com. "This is one of our big projects we knew we wanted to do. We did a lot of studies on other ballparks on the entertainment areas in center field, and ours is very outdated over the life of the stadium, which has been great.
"We've submitted a plan to renovate center field and make it more fan friendly and get more participation from the fans and really draw some more people in there."
The center-field fence, which currently sits 436 feet from home plate, would be brought in to about 409 feet. The renovation of center field would result in three new bar locations, four additional food locations and a premium group seating area at field level, creating the first field-level seating area available at Minute Maid Park.
Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan and senior vice president of business operations Marcel Braithwaite toured more than 20 ballparks last year to get ideas for reimagining the center-field area. The design of the new center-field area was in partnership with MSA Sport and was influenced by feedback from fans, current and former players and front-office personnel.
"As you know, Tal's Hill, some people love it, some people hate it," Crane said. "We just thought it would be a better ballpark by moving that in. I think the distance will be 409 or 410, so it will still be a very deep center field. There's always been concern with the flag poles in play and danger in that, and also the injuries going up the Hill, so we think this would be better for the players, utilize the space better and be a very pretty ballpark."
The Astros are considering other ways to honor former president of baseball operations Tal Smith, a fixture in Houston baseball for decades.
Minute Maid Park, which opened in 2000, is owned by the taxpayers of Harris County and the city of Houston, so any changes must be approved by the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, which serves as the landlord.
"Any time our tenants want to spend a significant amount of money to upgrade our facilities, I think it's in the taxpayers' best interest to do that," said Kenny Friedman, chairman of the Sports Authority. "We've been working with them all along on what their ideas are. They have great ideas, and I think the public will be excited by what they're planning on doing there."