Orioles exploring renovations to Camden Yards

Restaurants or bars that give fans view of game are part of discussion

(Baltimore Orioles Photo )
September 30, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | Baltimore Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As another Orioles season ends Sunday at Camden Yards, team officials will enter the beginning stages of planned renovations to the 18-year-old stadium.

Janet Marie Smith, the Orioles' vice president for planning and development, said discussions about Camden Yards enhancements are still in the "conceptual stage" and the team will likely meet with Maryland Stadium Authority officials in late October to go over the plans.

"We've got some ideas that we are working on, and we're kind of getting them priced out," said Smith, who presided over the original design and construction of Camden Yards. "We got some very conceptual ideas. We want to test them and make sure the cost of doing them will make sense before we take it any further."

Smith said her focus remains on the $31 million renovations of the Orioles' spring training homes at both Ed Smith Stadium and Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota, Fla. Those projects are expected to be mostly complete by the team the Orioles report to spring training in mid-February.

However, Smith acknowledged she and principal owner Peter Angelos meet once a week and have regular discussions about improvements that can be made at Camden Yards, which opened to rave reviews April 6, 1992.

Smith said the discussions have included potentially adding restaurants or bars in the stadium that will allow fans to dine or drink while still watching the action on the field. Many of the newer stadiums, including the Philadelphia Phillies' Citizens Bank Park, have an outdoor bar and patio area.

"We've looked at and analyzed the trends in baseball, and we'd like to offer our fans more locations to congregate or socialize," Smith said. "We're not planning to do anything radical — just some tweaks. We don't want to lose any of our prime seating, and we don't want to lose any of the picturesque quality that makes Camden Yards stand out.

"We're looking at things we can to upgrade, particularly the concession stands. Ninety-nine percent of the restaurants in America need updating after 20 years. We have a fair amount of money we need to invest in the concessions just to keep them up to par. That will be a priority for us."

Camden Yards is held as the standard-bearer for a lot of the newer ballparks. A big part of the attraction is how the stadium has stayed true to its classic ballpark roots, something that Oriole fans have long appreciated while resisting significant change to the facility. Smith said that the team is very mindful of that while discussing any major changes to the ballpark.

"Nobody cares more about that than those of us working on it," Smith said. "I don't see us busting out sections and doing crazy stuff. Not changing its postcard views is a very important criterion of our thinking. We don't want to muck it up."

Smith brought up the purchase of the new Mitsubishi DiamondVision LED board prior to the 2008 season. There were discussions about getting a bigger scoreboard, but ultimately team officials decided that they didn't want it to overwhelm the park's other features.

"That demonstrates our approach to Camden Yards, which is to artfully tweak it and make sure it stays current," Smith said.

Several alterations or additions were made this season. The Orioles added their retired numbers to the facade of the upper deck in left field and then put replica sets inside the club level, where they were autographed by the respective Hall of Famers.

That was part of some significant upgrades to the club level, which now includes trophy cases holding the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young trophies won by Orioles, along with other memorabilia from significant events in franchise history.

The kids area at Gate H on the south end of Eutaw Street was also augmented with life-size bobblehead dolls of the Oriole bird, joining benches and other playground equipment.

The Maryland Stadium Authority has scheduled maintenance on the lower-level outfield seats and all club level and upper-level seats after the season as part of phase two of the deferred maintenance program. Phase one was completed last offseason when all the seats and the concrete between the foul poles in the lower seating bowl were replaced.

Once they are taken out, the old seats will be sent to Sarasota to be used in the renovated Ed Smith Stadium.

Janet Marie Smith said there would be other subtle changes done after the 2009 campaign and the home clubhouse at Camden Yards could also be undergo some changes, but any significant renovation will wait until after the 2011 season.

"I don't think we're going to try to rush and do some crazy stuff," Smith said. "Our primary focus is still on Sarasota. It's such a Herculean task to get it all done by spring training. We'll plan for 2012, which will be the 20th year at Camden Yards. We'll make changes incrementally so we won't get in the way of baseball."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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