Camden sky boxes will be last word in viewing comfort

PITCHING THE SUITE LIFE

November 09, 1990|By Mark Hyman

The new ballpark at Camden Yards promises to be a wonderland of wide seats, clear sightlines and short hot-dog lines for all Baltimore Orioles fans.

But for a select group of about 850 customers, the list of ballpark amenities also will include a private bathroom, a wet bar, telephones, two color television sets, air-conditioning and heating, deluxe cushioned chairs, plush carpeting and a sound system that can be tuned to one of four channels carrying information about the game.

If you're interested in living the sumptuous life, contact the Orioles. The new ballpark will have 72 private suites outfitted with these luxury items. And, starting this week, the Orioles will be happy to take your reservation.

The suites won't be for bargain hunters, though. They range in price from $95,000 a season for the ones nearest home plate to a low of $55,000 for suites with the best views of the foul poles. But they clearly will be the best buy for fans who prefer a seat within arm's reach of a shrimp cocktail.

And, as the Orioles see it, the private suites also will be a useful tool for local companies that want to soften up clients and reward employees with a night of baseball and cheese dip. The Orioles have received about 100 inquires about suite rentals, most from local companies. And, according to Julie Dryer, the team's director of private-suite sales, the team will market the pricey seats as "an ideal way to entertain corporately."

The Orioles also speak proudly of the design of the boxes, which will have both enclosed lounge areas with a sofa, bar table and chairs and an outdoor terrace with seating for between 10 and 14. From the suites, guests will also be able to move to a large stadium club that will ring the entire mezzanine level of the

ballpark.

The option of watching the ballgame from inside or outside the private suite is an unusual feature, according to Orioles president Larry Lucchino, who said it showed, "These are baseball boxes."

"A major effort was made to make sure there were outdoor seats, so you're not in an enclosed, hermetically sealed unit that doesn't have the feel of baseball," Lucchino said.

The private suites will account for about 850 of the 46,833 seats planned for the Camden Yards ballpark, which is scheduled to open for the 1992 baseball season. The cost of constructing them is estimated at $5.85 million, according to Maryland Stadium Authority executive director Bruce H. Hoffman.

But unlike the ballpark itself, which has a $105.4 million price tag, the private suites cannot be paid for with proceeds from bond sales. Hoffman said the stadium authority is studying four options to pay for them, including borrowing the money from a bank, finding a third party to pay for construction under a lease-back arrangement and having the Orioles act as the bank.

A decision will be made in the next three months, according to Hoffman, who added that whatever the stadium authority decides, the suites are likely to be a money maker for both the Orioles and the state. The revenue generated from leasing the boxes will go to paying off the loans, he said, and any additional money will go to the Orioles, and may come back to the state in the form of rent under its partnership lease agreement with the team.

"These are extremely sound money-makers," said Hoffman of the private suites, which he noted probably would turn a profit even if only 40 were rented on Opening Day of 1992.

That seems unlikely fewer than 65 of the planned 72 private suites are expected to go on the market. Stadium authority and Orioles officials now are renegotiating their agreement that allowed the Orioles to retain seven of the suites for use by, among others, Orioles principal owner Eli S. Jacobs; general manager Roland Hemond and Lucchino, and the stadium authority to control one suite for the use of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

A new agreement probably would take additional units off the market, according to representatives of both parties, who said others likely to receive them are Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and several of the TV and radio stations whose contracts with the Orioles entitle them to the use of private suites.

This week, the Orioles began their marketing efforts by contacting several local corporations and inviting them to meet with team officials in a new private-suite sales office, where the plush carpeting is the same flecked pattern that they will be walking on at the new stadium. Also displayed in the room at Memorial Stadium are a model of the Camden Yards ballpark and several artist's renderings of the private suites.

Orioles officials said they could not predict whether the downturn in the local economy would hurt their sales efforts, but there are some reasons for concern. For instance, USF&G Corp., which leased one of 28 private-seating areas at Memorial Stadium, announced Wednesday that it was cutting its dividend and that its chairman was taking early retirement.

"Sure, it may affect some companies," Dryer said of the sluggish economic conditions, "but our feeling now is that demand will exceed supply."

Said Lucchino: "How the economy shakes out is something everyone is concerned about and is watching for. We'll just proceed as planned."

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