Bigger, better Ravens' home is notch above Tour: With wider concourses, 245 food outlets and 1,076 toilets and urinals, there is a sizable difference in the new stadium -- and some subtle niceties, too.

August 07, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

If you grew up listening to Bert Jones pass his way down the field at Memorial Stadium -- while you stood in a seemingly interminable line for a soda in a dank concourse -- prepare for a culture shock at the new Ravens digs.

The $220 million facility will be bigger, the concourses wider and the fan amenities greater. There are fold-out changing tables, cup holders on the seats and, yes, plentiful washrooms.

And the setting, too, couldn't be much different. Gone will be the views of Ednor Gardens' tidy rowhouses and the traffic tie-ups along 33rd Street. In their place will be stunning vistas of the Inner Harbor, Oriole Park and the less-stunning expressway-crossed Middle Branch of the Patapsco River and South Baltimore industry.

And traffic tie-ups along Russell Street.

The architecture features several firsts, some of which have already made their way into other projects across the country. And there are a few quirky extras that will give the place distinction.

There are a few things that are bound to draw grumbles. The upper deck is among the highest in sports -- 50 percent higher than Memorial Stadium. Front-row patrons will find their views bisected by a railing. Many have requested new seats.

And although most of the 69,000 seats are 21 inches wide -- 4 inches wider than those at Memorial Stadium -- some, wedged randomly into rows to make them fit, are only 19 inches wide. The width you get depends on the luck of the draw.

Aesthetically, the building is bound to draw criticism from those who may find it an unworthy successor to Oriole Park. Others may wish for a modern or classic design instead of a combination of the two. Its setting, too, will draw unwelcome comparisons: If Oriole Park is tucked into the city, Ravens stadium, a few hundred feet south, is parked at the curb.

But for fans, the place has room to grow. All told, the building has 1.6 million square feet of interior space, including partly enclosed concourses. This compares with 1 million square feet at Oriole Park.

"At the outset of this whole thing, we did tons of focus groups and research," said David Modell, Ravens executive vice president of communications.

"The No. 1 item, beyond everything else, was bathrooms. The number of bathrooms, the cleanliness of bathrooms," Modell said.

The new stadium will have 66 washrooms available for public use, including eight unisex "family style" bathrooms with diaper changing stations parents can use with children of the opposite gender. All told, there will be 1,076 toilets and urinals.

That should cut down on lines.

Food and drinks, too, should be easy to come by.

The concourses are much wider than those at either Memorial Stadium or Oriole Park -- up to 64 feet wide in some places, compared with an average of 44 feet at Memorial -- and well-lighted. Sports franchises have discovered the value of this retail space when fans feel comfortable enough to linger and spend.

The stadium concessionaire, Fine Host, will be selling from 245 "permanent points of sale," including concession stands, portable food and beverage carts and eight specialty bars. There also will be about 300 vendors roaming the stands with beer and food.

Connecticut-based Fine Host estimates that it will sell more than 6,000 gallons of beer at each game.

Fans familiar with Oriole Park will notice a different system in place at the new stadium's concession stands.

Orioles fans line up, serve themselves food and beverages and take the items to a few central cashiers at each stand -- a system known as "line service."

Fine Host will have as many as six multipurpose cashiers at each stand, both serving the merchandise and taking money, known as a "queue line" system.

Here are a few other elements, some obvious and some not, to look for when you visit the stadium for the first time:

Open corners. The team calls these gaps at the corners of the upper deck "victory notches." The most dramatic element of the stadium's architecture, they were created by the double stacking of skyboxes along the sidelines. Because suites were left out of the end zones, the designers opted to move the end-zone decks down and closer to the field -- leaving the corners open and creating a vista for fans. It allows in a nice breeze during the summer. How this plays in December may be a different story.

Lower concourse "waves." As you walk the lower concourse, you'll notice the ground slopes up suddenly on the eastern edge. This is a function of efforts to minimize the stadium's exterior size. The field was put below ground level, just a few feet above the water table. The locker rooms, main kitchens and even the police holding cells are located in a horseshoe-shaped "basement" that starts under the east end zone and runs halfway around the stadium. Where the basement starts, the floor above had to be sloped up.

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