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InTransition Magazine : Transportation Planning, Practice & Progress

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New Ballpark Design Influences Go Back, Back, Way Back

By Karl Vilacoba

The cookie-cutter stadium has crumbled. In recent years, the trend in building new sports venues has veered away from the multipurpose behemoths along suburban interstates in favor of the more intimate, specialized retro-style arenas in the heart of cities’ downtowns.

Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association

Fans cheer on the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. The red

brick building visible behind the scoreboard is the old B&O

Railroad Warehouse, used today as office space.

Some point to Buffalo, N.Y.’s Pilot Field (now Dunn Tire Park) as the one that got the ball rolling. In 1988, the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons moved from the former War Memorial Field, where the NFL’s Bills played until the early 1970s, to the baseball-only facility. The roughly 20,000-seat park is located in the Queen City’s downtown near the Lake Erie and Buffalo River waterfronts. A block away, fans can board the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s Seneca Street rail station, where service is guaranteed to run until at least a half-hour after games. Dunn Tire Park was designed by the Kansas City, Mo.-based architectural firm of HOK Sport (also co-designers of Newark’s Prudential Center). The park served as a precursor for an HOK project which went on to garner far more attention and push the trend to a national level.

When it opened in 1992, Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards was widely acclaimed for bringing America’s Pastime back to its historical roots. The park called on the architectural influences of classic baseball cathedrals like New York’s Polo Grounds, Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Adding to its historic credentials, Babe Ruth’s childhood home once stood on the spot that is now the park’s centerfield.

Camden Yards was built in the neighborhood of a major former railroad center and designed in keeping with that tradition. Its steel trusses and pale brick exterior were meant to blend with the industrial feel of the area, particularly the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) Warehouse (now office space) that runs along its right field wall. Today, Maryland Rail Commuter Service (MARC) and Baltimore Light Rail trains service a station beside the warehouse. Fans approaching the park may find Orioles great Boog Powell manning the grill at his outdoor barbecue stand, or baseball-shaped plaques marking the landing spots, hitters and dates of home runs knocked out of the park. One blast by Ken Griffey Jr. in a 1993 home run derby hit the B&O building.

The Camden Yards formula became hotter than roasted peanuts, and HOK was the most dominant player in the game. Among their many baseball projects to follow were San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. HOK designed the stadiums being built for the New York Yankees and Mets, both scheduled to open in 2009.

Gina Leo, a spokesperson for HOK, said the firm strives to meet goals of sustainable design—the construction of buildings that are eco-friendly, energy-efficient, fit their surroundings and are built to last. As an example, she pointed to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., which was built with white stone-style materials and transparent glass to look like the capital’s historic buildings. The ballpark was built on a brownfield site but went on to become the first major pro stadium to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The days of the generic stadium have passed partly because of the public’s appreciation for these sustainable designs and partly because today’s fans expect more from the gameday experience, she said.

“People don’t want to show up, park their cars and walk a mile to a park that looks like any old park in any part of the country,” Leo said. “I think people generally enjoy getting dinner and a drink before the game, going to the game and going out nearby for a good time after. It’s good for building a sense of community and it’s good for the local economy.”

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