Ballpark designer rejoins city's renaissance

Developer hires Smith to steer renovation of aging factories

Urban planning

April 26, 2000|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

She won fans while helping to turn a rail yard into a ballpark. Now, Janet Marie Smith is returning to work in Baltimore and will look to transform some of the city's other industrial remnants.

On Monday, Smith, president of Turner Sports & Entertainment Development Inc. in Atlanta, will join Baltimore developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. in an as-yet untitled position. The company's president, C. William Struever, said he envisions his new hire working on several urban renewal projects.

One of them is Tide Point, the $53 million conversion of the former Procter & Gamble plant into an incubator for high-tech start-ups. Struever sees Tide Point as an anchor for the latest part of the harbor's renaissance. It will also house Smith's office.

In short, he said, he's hoping Smith can do for Baltimore's aging factories what she helped do for one now-famous rail yard -- put them on the map as a symbol of the city's resurgence.

"Janet Marie is a living legend in the world of urban design. She has a terrific sense of what makes cities great, and a marvelous capacity of explaining ideas and winning people over," said Struever, who met Smith while she was working on Camden Yards.

Struever didn't need to check Smith's references -- his longtime mentor, the late James Rouse, "was totally in love with her."

Smith was not the architect of Camden Yards, but as the Orioles' representative, she is given credit for making sure the park stayed true to the team's vision.

With Camden Yards' success spawning urban ballparks all over the country, Smith could have continued in the field that made her famous. But the 42-year-old Mississippi native wanted to return to Baltimore. She liked Struever's fervor for Baltimore's resources -- in addition to transforming Tindeco Wharf and the American Can Co., Struever is known for kayaking to business meetings -- and his big-picture ideas. And after seven years of commuting to Atlanta, she wanted to live full-time with her husband, F. Barton Harvey III, and their three young children. She's been drawn to Baltimore since the early 1980s, when she used the city as a case study for her master's thesis in urban planning at the City University of New York. Camden Yards brought fanfare and many ballpark job offers. But, Smith said, her focus was always on stadiums as a means to revitalize cities.

"It's nice to be considered an expert in something," Smith said of her ballpark fame, "but it really is the city I care about."

Indeed, when the question of moving ballparks to the suburbs comes up, Smith comes out swinging. In 1993, when then Turner Properties president Carl "Bunky" Helfrich recruited her for what she called "a nice little project" to convert Olympic Stadium into a park for the Atlanta Braves, Smith said she thought her three-days-a-week commute to Atlanta would last only through that project.

Instead, she became a force in the fight for a new arena for Atlanta's National Basketball Association team, the Hawks, and its new National Hockey League team, the Thrashers.

Smith was adamant about building the arena downtown. Ted Turner shared her vision.

"I think Janet and Ted were the two people who promoted it most," said Helfrich. "She's very persistent. When she thinks something is right, she doesn't let it drop."

Smith became president of Turner Properties in 1997 when Helfrich retired, and oversaw construction of Philips Arena, which was built in conjunction with a renovation of the CNN Center.

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