Ballpark's 'conscience' left her mark

URBAN LANDSCAPE

June 30, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

It has become common practice in the construction of large civic projects to accentuate the performance of the group rather than the genius of the individual.

But those who doubt that one person still can make a difference need only look at the contributions of Janet Marie Smith, who leaves her job today as vice president of planning and development for the Baltimore Orioles.

When the Mississippi native came to Baltimore in February 1989, no one knew quite what to make of her sweet-talking, Southern belle manner.

But the 31-year-old architect proved to be all business -- and more knowledgeable about America's ballparks than most major-leaguers.

Ms. Smith ruffled some feathers in her job as the Orioles' in-house architect and chief liaison with the Maryland Stadium Authority and the architects of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, HOK Sport Facilities Group. Some were envious of her ability to coax Patty Leigh Brown of the New York Times to write glowingly about the "ornithologically correct" oriole weather vanes while other aspects of the ballpark were overlooked.

But when Oriole Park opened in 1992, its intimate, old-fashioned design was the talk of the baseball world. A real-life "Field of Dreams," critics raved, and "Rookie of the Year."

bTC Now she's off to Atlanta to do it again. Starting tomorrow, Ms. Smith will be the vice president of sports facilities for TBS Properties, a division of the Turner Broadcasting System. As such, she will oversee the development of the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, a $207 million project that later will be converted to a 48,000-seat ballpark for the Atlanta Braves. She'll also direct Ted Turner's efforts to build a spring training facility for the Braves and an arena for the Atlanta Hawks basketball team.

As she embarks on her new venture, Ms. Smith is the first to point out that a great many people influenced the look and feel of Baltimore's ballpark.

"I didn't do anything single-handedly," she said. "Larry Lucchino was the inspiration. HOK was the architect. Bruce Hoffman and Herb Belgrad were the developers. Barton Malow/Sverdrup managed construction. It was a collaborative process."

But it is also fair to say that the ballpark turned out far better than it might have without her tenacity.

With the blessing of former Orioles owner Eli Jacobs and former president Larry Lucchino, she became the project's architectural conscience. She made sure Camden Yards stayed true to the owner's vision of an urban park that combined the best traits of hallowed "green cathedrals" with the latest technological advances.

In that role, she was a strong advocate for saving the B&O Warehouse. She pressed for the upper deck to have a gentle slope and steel supports rather than concrete. She was passionate about reopening Eutaw Street as a pedestrian thoroughfare. And she was behind many of the ballpark's fan-friendly touches, from David Ashton's old-fashioned graphics to the 1890s Orioles logo at the end of each row of seats.

She also tried to knit the ballpark with its surroundings and keep it active year-round. For example, the renovated warehouse houses the Camden Club, a baseball store and banquet rooms.

"There were two ways of looking at it," she explained. "We could have asked, 'Within the 85 acres of Camden Yards, what should we do?' Or, "What can we do that will most benefit the city beyond the boundaries of the ballpark?' We chose the second approach."

If Ms. Smith wants to help build ballparks for the rest of her life, she'll always be a nomad. For now, she intends to continue living in Baltimore, with her husband and 5-month-old son, and to commute to Atlanta every week.

No matter where she's based, Ms. Smith already has left her mark on Baltimore. Visitors to Camden Yards may not know her '' name, but they benefit from her work every time they pass through the turnstiles.

Atlanta spillover

Janet Marie Smith isn't the only Baltimorean working on the Braves stadium. Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore recently was tapped to join the consortium of firms now designing it, and David Ashton & Co. will help create its graphics.

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