When Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992, the stadium complex was universally acclaimed for its innovative design that spawned “The Camden Effect.” Inspired by Camden Yards, the next generation of single-use professional sports facilities replicated its placement in an urban environment, small park intimacy, and use of existing historic design elements. Many called it “the ballpark that forever changed baseball.”
But now, more than three decades of use later, with changing consumer habits and an ever-evolving Baltimore City, the Baltimore Orioles have pledged to restore the relevance of the ballpark with a new strategy aimed at redeveloping the entire stadium district with a goal of generating heightened engagement.
Offering their insights into possible scenarios are two professionals with direct experience in the design of professional sports environments — Robert Northfield, Principal, BCT Design Group and Matt Renauld, Principal/Design Director, Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc.
Serving the interests of residents first and tourists next
Robert Northfield (RN) – “It is critically important to intertwine Oriole Park at Camden Yards with M&T Stadium, the casino district, and nearby communities by injecting a multifamily use, art and culture element, and event programming. Don’t repeat the mistake made at Harborplace by only catering to tourists which, as we have seen, eventually ran its course. The new strategy needs to focus on residents first and tourists next. With upwards of 46,000 spectators, we need to capitalize on this activation of the district. Discard the old-fashioned experience of spectators attending the game and then going home by blurring the lines of sports and entertainment and giving people reasons to linger. We call it obtaining a greater ‘share of the day,’ including early mornings and evenings, and generating reasons to visit 200 times a year like an indoor arena. Accomplish this by catering to the interest of city residents, offering hyperlocal and best-in-class tenants and experiences, which celebrate Baltimore. Make it inclusive, authentic and provide something compelling for everyone.”
Matt Renauld (MR) – “The stadium district as currently configured is highly functional but only for about 90 days throughout the year. It also creates a tremendous physical barrier that separates it from portions of West Baltimore, Federal Hill, Otterbein, and greater downtown which needs to be addressed. The area is craving to be opened up to allow for greater access and permeability, with the addition of plazas, walking and bicycle paths and roads that stitch it back to the city. For inspiration, examine the Deer District in Milwaukee which celebrates the city’s industrial heritage, while creating spaces for events, dining, and other activities. Don’t replicate The Battery in Atlanta, which was plopped down in an area away from downtown but, instead, we should incorporate the elements around the park and link it, much like Ravens Walk was intended to do, to Eutaw Street, M&T Stadium and downtown entertainment. In the short-term, finding more purposeful uses for parking areas should be explored for community uses. If more than 100,000 football fans can attend college football games and use the adjoining sports fields for parking, there is no reason that Camden Yards couldn’t repurpose its lots in similar manner. In essence, it is a big island and there is no reason to go there on non-game days – it has immense untapped potential.”
RN – “City wide collaboration is occurring among developers that have huge investments and project synergy. Baltimore features an amazing set of individual assets — call them the string of pearls if you will — and residents and tourists need to be encouraged to take journeys to experience everything. It is important to connect existing attractions, from the casino, music venues, Topgolf and connections to great neighborhoods like Otterbein and Federal Hill. Conway and Pratt Streets are two local connectors, but the latter needs help with activation and streetscaping. They could serve as tremendous bookends for those wishing to experience Lexington Market, and the attractions at the Inner Harbor before ending up at the stadium. Developers are starting to realize that great streets are necessary to achieve walkability and to successfully knit all the pearls together.”
MR – “The convention center is an obvious opportunity for collaboration, and I know ideas have been floated for an arena on the site or something that ties in directly with Camden Yards. This area would also tie into Bob’s point of using Conway Street as a linkage between Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor. A reimagined convention center would have a significant impact. The Hilton Hotel has created a large visual barrier that has cut off city views to the Bromo Seltzer Tower and beyond, but there are ways to incorporate more linkage with that use. Make better use of the outdoor balconies for viewing parties or add programming to the rooftop. With things finally in motion at Harborplace, it is important not to disrupt or compete with any of those plans, and there also exists a whole swath of stakeholders on the west side in the industrial area. Activity can spill into those neighborhoods, as well as with the University of Maryland to the north. We need to ensure that proposed uses are complimentary and not competing.”
Turning the stadium inside out
RN – “If you’re not moving ahead then you are falling behind. Oriole Park at Camden Yards broke barriers when it opened but needs to adapt and conform to present day realities including the competition for entertainment dollars and the intermingling of activities. In its current form, Camden Yards provides an introverted experience with everything happening inside and that needs to be turned inside out onto Eutaw Street. There has been talk about the removal of outdoor seats and the replacement of complementary uses, and to create a more porous situation with the warehouse. In its current form, it is an obstacle that hides what is on the other side. Compelling ground floor uses would help rectify that.”
MR – “Many considered it sacrilegious when the left field wall was moved back, but eventually most accepted the change and realized the Stadium aesthetic wasn’t impacted. It is clear that you can make improvements to the stadium, including adding a bar in the centerfield outfield to adjust to the way fans consume baseball. To Bob’s point on turning the stadium inside out, more synergy can be created on the west side with the area around Pickles Pub – perhaps a larger pedestrian plaza and event space, as people crave places to congregate in an environment that is considered safe and authentic to Baltimore. Outdoor lounges and turf areas where people could linger would also work well — even in the stadium.”
Rebranding and reworking
BN – “It might be an interesting opportunity for the Hilton to rebrand itself as a sports hotel and link it directly to the stadium by leveraging its roof deck, creating a sky garden, incorporating rooms with sports themes, and offering pre- and post-game cookouts. The warehouse might do well by adding a residential component to put more people on the street each day.”
MR – “Camden Yards doesn’t currently have a true front door along Conway or Howard Streets and the open lots are a tough piece of land with the transit stations and parking lots. One thing to consider is punching through additional openings on the ground level warehouse in a few spots to facilitate engagement from Howard Street and to create a heightened gameday experience. Not to compete with the renovated CFG Arena programming, but positioning the stadium as a premier outdoor concert venue and attracting topflight talent will make it a national draw, while creating additional ways to program the stadium throughout the year. Maybe, one day, the Maglev will venture downtown and make Camden Yards a regional stop. What an opportunity here in the heart of Baltimore.”