WEST VILLAGES — For 1992 Port Charlotte High School graduate Steve Padgett, being a part of the new Atlanta Braves spring training stadium has been a sort of homecoming.
Padgett is the principal and managing partner with Fawley Bryant Architecture out of Sarasota. He and a partner purchased the firm last year after he’d worked at it for about two decades.
He moved to Charlotte County as a child and grew up a Braves fan, his first game in Atlanta as a kid is one he still remembers.
So teaming up with his team and Pendulum Studios out of St. Louis to do the architecture for the West Villages stadium — named CoolToday Stadium — has been a thrill.
“I was always a baseball guy,” he said. “The Braves really were our team as well as the entire Southeast.”
That was before the Rays and Marlins existed.
Fawley Bryant has long worked on sports facilities in the region, including IMG and the Pirates stadium in Bradenton. It was through IMG that Fawley Bryant had their first contact with the Braves. It was a long courtship, but it worked out.
The Braves and Fawley Bryant maintained a good relationship and Braves ownership sought input from architects for a new stadium.
“We worked entirely in 3-D. In the meeting, there was a lot of conversation ... and I think that (3-D) really turned people’s heads in terms of how we communicate,” he said. “The interview turned into a working meeting. I think they felt an ownership in the ideas.”
An hour later, they got the call. They were tasked to work with Pendulum, whom the Braves had previously worked with, to do the architecture.
“In general, our experience with the Braves is they’ve been great partners with this. They’ve been extremely involved ... I think they’re great people,” Padgett said.
The facility has “a lot of little things,” that he thinks will benefit fans.
“There are lots of opportunities for fans to get different experiences in the park,” he said.
And it’s a facility that is looking toward the future of Major League Baseball.
“We’ve also got locker rooms for umpires that is dedicated for females — they (the Braves) are looking ahead the next 30 years,” he said.
For Padgett, he grew up with his father in the construction industry and found architecture was the melding.
“I became fascinated with the drawings. I also grew up really fascinated with art. Architecture is the best hybrid between art and science of the building industry,” he said.
His family fell in love with spring training baseball in Charlotte County, with the Texas Rangers when they were there. And that is something Padgett still appreciates about the region — people don’t just become fans of certain teams — they become fans of the game.
His family still lives in Punta Gorda and he said Fawley Bryant continues to work throughout the region. The firm, which has existed for 25 years and has 21 fulltime employees, is in many ways a small firm — but they take on big taskings. They have worked for Charlotte County on law enforcement buildings and other general projects.
The $140 million Braves project is set to open for its first game March 24.
“I think we’re on track. It’s a huge project unlike any that this area has seen, ever,” he said.
The last major build for one team was for the Red Sox in Fort Myers, he said.
“We had nine months to do the design and 14-16 to do the construction,” Padgett said.
But despite the tight schedule and the enormous scope, there haven’t been many changes to the original idea. That is something Padgett looks at with pride.
“I think if you compare the initial concept to what we’ve designed and built, it’s really close. That’s one of the things I’m most proud about — the final will be very close to the initial vision.”