Oriole Park is a major league trend-setter

March 31, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

In Cleveland, the site picked for the new ballpark is squarely in the downtown district, overlooking the city's oldest industrial center.

In Arlington, Texas, plans call for the exterior of the Rangers' new park to be dressed up using brick and exposed steel beams.

In Denver, it is almost too eerie. The new stadium will rely heavily on red brick and crisscrossing steel trusses. And get this: One of the ballpark's nearest neighbors will be a renovated warehouse building filled with restaurants and trendy shops.

Sound familiar?

It should. Oriole Park at Camden Yards doesn't open its gates officially for another six days. But already, elements of its design are showing up in ballparks in almost every time zone.

The trend could have positive effects for baseball fans, resulting in more ballparks that fit well into their surroundings, give fans a close-up look at the playing field and generally are the best places in town to grab a hot dog.

But there are risks, too. How about a Camden Yards-style stadium in the middle of a parking lot? Or a cornfield?

The thought is enough to send a shiver through Joe Spear, chief architect of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a senior vice president with HOK Sports Facilities Group.

"We want people to see that the Baltimore ballpark is a unique design, not a cookie cutter," he said. "I hope they will keep in mind that what we did in Baltimore is a response to the city, not a Disneyland-type experience."

These are boom times for new ballparks and for the architects who design them. By 1997, four new stadiums will have joined the major leagues, including three that will incorporate at least some of the traditional themes used in the Orioles' stadium. The fourth, in Atlanta, faces more complicated design questions because it will serve as a venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics before the National League's Braves move in.

If Baltimore fans see familiar lines in the Denver and Cleveland stadiums, there is a good reason. As with Oriole Park at Camden Yards, HOK is the ballpark architect, and Mr. Spear has played a lead role.

The Cleveland ballpark, scheduled to open in 1994, has lots in common with its Baltimore cousin. The $161 million park is being built on a downtown site, next to "The Flats," one of the city's old industrial zones. Its design reflects its urban surroundings -- tubular steel is being used in the ballpark frame to connect it with the many steel bridges visible from the seating bowl. And, of course, parking is tight -- only about 1,200 spaces in the stadium garages.

Before the design phase began, the architects and the new ballpark's tenant, the Cleveland Indians, had a long talk about Camden Yards.

"We literally had to be blunt with the people in Cleveland," Mr. Spear said. "We knew they had admired our work in Baltimore and Chicago [where HOK was the designer of the new Comiskey Park and worked on a redesign of Wrigley Field]. But we really saw a different opportunity there."

Dennis Lehman, Indians senior vice president, said the team wanted its own design, but was impressed with some of Baltimore's touches, including the classic facade.

"I think we all liked the skin of the building, and the use of brick and concrete," Mr. Lehman said.

The Indians also appreciated the intimate feel of the Baltimore ballpark. It is missing from their current home -- Cleveland Stadium, which seats 74,483 for baseball.

"In that respect, we took a page out of Baltimore's book," Mr. Lehman said.

How else would you describe what has happened in Denver?

When the Colorado Rockies join the National League as an expansion team next season, they will play in a converted football facility, Mile High Stadium. But after two seasons, the team is expected to move to Coors Field, a $141.5 million stadium being built in a downtown warehouse district.

The ballpark project calls for refurbishing of several buildings that surround the new stadium, which is set between view of the mountains and of the Denver skyline. Among them: A two-story railroad headquarters building and an adjoining warehouse that stretches more than a city block. The ballpark will be accented in red brick and stone to carry the theme of those renovated buildings.

The downtown setting for the ballpark is credited, at least, in part, to the critical success of the Orioles' stadium.

"It was a case where Baltimore's experience probably had an impact on Denver's decision to do the same," said Tom Gleason, deputy director of the Denver Metropolitan Baseball District, which is overseeing the project.

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