As opening day nears for Oriole Park at Camden Yards, there has been no shortage of speculation about the impact it will or won't have on Baltimore and Maryland.
But for those who want more than statistical projections, one of the best places to look would be the last major redevelopment project in Baltimore to garner so much national attention -- the twin pavilions of Harborplace.
Built at a cost of $18 million, Harborplace changed the city in ways no one could have predicted when it opened in 1980. From an urban planning standpoint, there are strong parallels between the two projects that suggest Oriole Park will have just as much impact, if not more.
What the ballpark shares most with Harborplace is the power to have an uplifting psychological impact on the city, over and above any direct physical or economic impact. The stadium can be seen as the capstone to the urban renaissance era that Harborplace put in high gear 12 years ago, the culmination of city revitalization efforts throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In a sense, this is what it has all been building up to.
"There is a much greater sense of anticipation about the ballpark than there was for Harborplace's opening because it's clearly a project created by and for the public," said James W. Rouse, an avid Oriole fan and founder of the company that built Harborplace.
"Everybody in the city feels ownership of it, and all of the advanced attention has been so marvelous. I've never seen the mood of the city raised to such a high pitch as it is now about the ballpark, and justifiably so. I think it will be widely recognized as one of the most important places in the United States."
Another parallel is that both are people magnets. Just as the 12-year-old retail center uses shopping and dining as an excuse for bringing people together, the ballpark uses sports as an excuse for bringing people together. The bottom line is that each is drawing people to the heart of the city.
Yet the two buildings are not merely gathering places, but spiritual centers that go to the heart of what the community is about and cares about. Both play to the pride of the community, providing tangible symbols of accomplishment. Both help generate excitement about Baltimore, excitement that can be fueled by media coverage. Both show that cities can be fun, fulfilling what Mr. Rouse has referred to as "the basic yearning of people to come together and share time and space with each other."
Both also have strong ties to William Donald Schaefer: Harborplace was his chief physical development triumph as mayor of Baltimore; Oriole Park is his chief development triumph while governor of Maryland.
The marketplace and the ballpark have also put Baltimore on the cutting edge of national development trends. In 1981, Boston architect and critic Robert Campbell observed that festival marketplaces capture the spirit of the age more than any other type of building. "Perhaps each generation creates a kind of mythic building type for itself," he wrote. "What the skyscrapers were to New York in the 1930s, the market is today: . . . the place where the god of the city has taken up residence for the moment; the place where you take the visiting cousins; the place, where, mysteriously, for a time, the Delphic air vibrates."
Seven years later, New York architect John Burgee made a similar observation about sports arenas. A stadium is "the most monumental structure that cities are building these days," he said. "They're not building City Halls. They're not building
cathedrals. The sports palace is the new national meeting place."
"Not since ancient Greece has sports so much taken the center," added his partner, architect Philip Johnson. "In ancient times, the Olympic games were where everything happened. There was no question where the center of the community was. . . Again, now, cities may be known by their tall buildings, but communities will be known by their stadiums."
Today, many cities have festival marketplaces and many are getting new ballparks and arenas. But no other city in the country has combined the two the way Baltimore has. They are practically side by side, and the combination will make each all the more powerful.
"Sports have been one of the great integrating forces, both racially and economically, in American life," said former Baltimore housing commissioner M. Jay Brodie. "That function is terrific to have in the middle of the city."
For many people, in fact, the ballpark is likely to strike an even deeper chord than the shops of Harborplace, because many people are so passionate about sports. They can get more excited about a game-winning home run by Cal Ripkin Jr. than about a great salade Nicoise at Paolo's.