Orioles' new stadium is shaping up in a most comfortable way

John Steadman

November 23, 1990|By John Steadman

STEEL WORK is growing out of the ground as a trellis begins to form the spinal column for Baltimore's new baseball park. It's taking on a shape, growing each day, and is a month ahead of where it was supposed to be at this date.

The competent executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, Bruce Hoffman, graduate of Clarkson College, class of 1969, served as tour guide for the assembled guests. Hoffman has never built a stadium before, devoting his creative skills to specializing in the construction of hospitals and prisons in New York state.

What he likes most about the project is the park, when completed, is going to have extensive spectator comforts. "If you're seated in the lower section, you'll come in at street level and walk down, not up, which makes for easy access," he said. "Going up to the second or third decks, the ramps have a gentle incline. The climb will be gradual, not at all severe."

The sight lines will be excellent. The downtown location makes it easy to find for visitors (25 minutes closer than Memorial Stadium for those traveling from south of the city). And the architectural firm of Hellmuth, Obata & Kasselbaum has hall of fame credentials when it comes to design work.

Janet Marie Smith, vice president of planning for the Orioles, said the concourse area, leading to 33 concession booths and restrooms, will be wide and spacious, actually 51 feet in contrast to 35 feet at Memorial Stadium. So congestion will be minimized as fans make their way to the various stairways that lead to the seating sections in a park that will accommodate 46,000 -- about 7,000 less than they now have.

The playing field is to be 18 feet below ground level, but excavation hasn't started. Price tag for the entire effort is $105.4 million and Hoffman believes it will meet budgeted figures or even be slightly under. "I am certain we won't be over," he promised.

Approximately 30 contractors are involved, plus another 100 subcontractors. Some days between 260 and 270 workers are concerned with one phase or another as they prepare for Opening Day 1992.

With considerable pride, Hoffman pointed to short centerfield and told the strolling audience it was the exact spot where the immortal Babe Ruth lived as a child. The address, 408 W. Conway St., is no more. It was absorbed by the ballpark, which will be the only major-league facility ever built on the location where a Hall of Fame player actually lived.

Under the stands will be locker rooms, storage compartments, batting/pitching tunnels and a network of huge pipes to pump beer directly to the consumer outlets, doing away with bottles, cans and kegs. As for the Orioles offices, they'll be outside the rightfield fence, located in the old Camden warehouse, not to be confused with historic Camden Station that also will be preserved and renovated, deservingly so.

The warehouse is referred to as a "fun building" by Hoffman but it's both a dinosaur and an eyesore. Still it will be made over at a cost of $15 million in rehabilitation fees but, hold on, this covers only three-quarters of the warehouse. A price still hasn't been finalized for the sale of the hulk, but Hoffman estimates it may be around $11 million.

The building is 1,016 feet long and 51 feet wide. New windows and some that have been bricked over will be replaced with modern units. However, the view from inside is disappointing. To the east, there's only a small vista of the harbor and the other way, toward the ballpark, the distance of 450 feet to home plate would make it difficult to enjoy a game from a position so far removed.

Little wonder Gov. William Donald Schaefer asked so many questions about the advisability of keeping the warehouse, rather than tearing it down. The brick will be cleaned, a new roof provided and the Orioles may have the tallest/narrowest office in the city, even the country.

What has transpired so far in the overall construction is positive, despite the obvious negative in retaining the warehouse -- which wasn't entirely a decision of the Orioles. They went along with the idea, partially, because the state is paying for the entire facility.

The park, when opened, with 5,000 automobile spaces on location and another 20,000 available on city streets and in public garages, will be a stimulus for restaurants, hotels and Harborplace, a pop fly away. What Baltimore waited 18 years to see is coming to reality.

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