Angelos wants kids flocking to ballgame Plan would add free seats for children

September 30, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

The incoming Orioles owners want to build a new, bleacher-style pavilion at Camden Yards, but they don't want to sell the extra seats to big shots.

In fact, they don't want to sell them at all.

Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos, who leads the new group, is exploring plans to expand the stadium's seating as part of a program to create an area exclusively for schoolchildren. The 1,500 to 2,500 seats in the new section would be passed out free, courtesy of the Orioles.

The ticket giveaway would be the among the first moves by the Angelos investors to fulfill their pledge to become more involved in promoting baseball among children and to increase the club's presence in the community.

"I believe Mr. Angelos has an interest in increasing seats at the ballpark, and this would be one way to accommodate that," said Bruce Hoffman, the stadium authority's executive director. "The stadium authority is willing to look at anything. As long it works out financially and architecturally, we'll have a look."

Mr. Hoffman said the stadium authority and the Orioles have just begun their talks about the project. He said the architect of the stadium, HOK Sports Facilities Group, is working on a conceptual study "to see if this whole thing in concept makes sense before any money is spent."

Mr. Angelos declined to speak about the plan yesterday. He said he would talk about it after he had consulted with government officials and private and public school educators.

The new grandstand would be located beyond the left-center-field wall, in an area now used for standing-room viewing and as a pre-game picnic grove. Until architects' plans are drawn, it will not be clear how those two areas would be affected by Mr. Angelos' proposal.

Even with the backing of the Orioles, the stadium expansion faces obstacles. The stadium authority and the Orioles would have to deal with the sticky issue of how to pay for the project, with costs possibly running into the millions of dollars. Even then, the Camden Yards lease requires that the Orioles and the stadium authority agree on major changes to the ballpark.

The new grandstand is among several projects to increase the 48,079-seat capacity -- a capacity some have criticized as too small -- at the ballpark being discussed by the Orioles and the stadium authority. The two sides are also looking into a modest expansion of the center-field bleachers.

The plan being discussed would add 183 seats to the bleachers by widening the seating area 10 to 12 feet into the center-field sod farm.

Talks about the 183-seat bleacher expansion began last spring, months before Mr. Angelos and members of his investors group purchased the team. The group that Mr. Angelos leads bought the team for $173 million, a record for a sports franchise, at auction Aug. 2. The Angelos investors expect to take control when major-league owners vote on the deal, probably Monday.

Talks about the bleacher project have slowed recently, Mr. Hoffman said. But he attributed that to the activity surrounding the sale.

"I am certain with sale of team, 183 seats hasn't risen to the top of priority list," he said. "If we were to do the other work, it probably would be incorporated."

Next season also may bring changes in about 700 seats in the left-field corner. Since the ballpark opened in 1992, the notorious seats, spread over about three sections of the lower grandstand, have been panned by fans who have complained that they point toward the outfield and offer lousy views of action on the mound and at home plate.

In the next few weeks, the stadium authority expects to receive a row of prototype chairs that point in the direction of the action. The angled seats have not been used in stadiums yet but have been ordered for ballparks due to open next year in Cleveland and in Denver in 1995.

Over the past two years, the Orioles and the stadium authority have tried various ways of improving the plight of fans marooned in the left-field corner, including dropping ticket prices for some of the worst seats. But sightlines have left many fans disappointed.

Recently, Mr. Angelos boosted spirits among some in the affected sections. In an interview last week, he said the problem "has to be corrected," and he promised to look into fixing things "right away."

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