In this issue: An architectural stats book: all the majors and AAA parks, who built them and when; their cost and capacity. But we’ll start with a question-and-answer session with four firms, on the rising trend of minor league parks.

Despite football’s grosses and the fever-pitch of Final Four, baseball still holds the title of America’s pastime. The fields and stadiums where it is played often become shrines. While you rarely hear of a basketball or football fan setting out on a pilgrimage to visit every single park, it’s not uncommon in baseball.

For those fans, the details of who built it, when, and what history was made there is important. Books have been written about it, and Web space devoted to the subject are substantial, well-maintained and heavily visited.

Hopefully, it’s not all about nostalgia, because that’s a backward glance. Undoubtedly the retro look has influenced most major-league parks since Camden Yards. But while the look may be turn-of-the-century, the engineering is not. We’ve come a long way since the minor league stadium at Columbus, Ohio, collapsed after everyone sat down, following the first-ever singing of the national anthem at a sporting event. That’s according to the Clippers’ historian, Joe Santry. In this issue, we’ll take a look at the way the Astro’s giant retractable roof at Minute Maid Park was built ahead of schedule and under budget. Again, it’s a great leap forward from the air-conditioned Astrodome, at first hailed as the eighth wonder, and later a source of delight for sarcastic sports announcers for most of its history.

Here, we present the architectural stats book: all the majors and AAA parks, who built them and when; their cost and capacity. But we’ll start with a question-and-answer session with four firms, on the rising trend of minor league parks. Minor league teams sold about 39 million tickets last year, according to ESPN attendance records. (This also includes the Mexican League which has 16 teams, among them the Saltillo Serape Makers and the Oaxaca Warriors—pronounced, wa-ha-ka, thus explaining the Warriors.)

According to our research, 33 new minor league parks have opened since 2000. They are listed inside, too.

Our participating firms were HOK, Bruce Miller; DLR Group, Stan Meradith; EwingCole, Robert McConnell; and NBBJ, Friedl Bohm.

DI: Let’s start with a history and a quick overview of your firm in baseball facility and sports design—

HOK: HOK Sport + Venue + Event celebrated its 20th anniversary last December. Since the very beginning, we’ve been devoted to sports facilities. In fact, we were the first firm to focus entirely on the project type. Ballpark design, both minor league and major league, has been a mainstay of our firm throughout those two decades. To date, we’ve worked with more than 70 minor league franchises and 24 of the 30 MLB franchises.   

DLR: We fell into a niche in the market in spring 1987. New television contracts on Major League Baseball in 1986 greatly expanded the popularity of baseball. Spring training facilities in 1986 grew from sleepy, training, exhibition-type operations into entertainment, tourist attraction operations—in other words, from training into major revenue generation operations. Of particular interest was the economic spin-off that these new “attractions” brought.

With an office located in Tampa, we were in the hot-bed of spring training and got our first opportunity with a project with little competition. From then on you’re “the expert.” We gained experience from our location in Tampa and grew our expertise in spring training in Florida to spring training in Arizona to a national practice in Major and Minor League facilities.

EwingCole: EwingCole’s long history in sports design and engineering began with the Philadelphia Phillies. Several of the firm’s founders worked on the initial design of Veterans Stadium, a multi-purpose sports facility and home of the Phillies and Eagles. Master planning sports facilities and complexes was a natural expansion given the firm’s experience. EwingCole designed the master plan for the Meadowlands in 1970, which included the design of Giants Stadium and the Meadowlands Racetrack.

The design of national and international thoroughbred racetracks is also a cornerstone of the firm’s sports market. In recent years, the marriage of racing and gaming has created new opportunities for the horse racing industry and for our architects and designers. EwingCole is at the forefront of this market type, coined “Racino design.”

In addition to extensive work at various collegiate and university sporting facilities, EwingCole has continued its work with the Phillies for over 35 years. This experience includes the restoration and renovation of Veterans Stadium, projects at Jack Russell Stadium and the new minor-league Bright House Networks Field, as well the architecture, engineering, interior design and planning for Citizens Bank Park.

NBBJ: In terms of our history designing sports facilities, our first professional sports venue was the renovation of Key Arena in Seattle, completed in 1995. Our first baseball stadium was the Doubleday Baseball Field for the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, finished in 1996. The following year, we completed the 3,000-seat Bill Davis Baseball Stadium at Ohio State University. Another Seattle project, Safeco Field, was our first MLB stadium, completed in 1999. Our renovation of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles was done in 2000, followed by Miller Park in Milwaukee, in 2001.

Other professional sports work includes the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Nationwide Arena and Crew Stadium in Columbus, and the new Philadelphia Eagles Stadium, Lincoln Financial Field.

DI: How has the design and construction service delivery system changed since you started?

HOK: These ballparks often are partially publicly funded, which brings with it a steadily increasing amount of public and media attention. The expectations are constantly being raised, and that’s the way it should be. A big difference is schedule; these ballparks are being delivered faster than ever before. We’ve also made great strides in communicating design ideas to the client and the community; we have better technological tools to allow us to communicate design concepts with non-architects. 
 
DLR: Frankly, not much. Early on the spring training facility work was primarily Design-Build, but now it’s probably more Design-CM. In my opinion, Design-Build is growing more in other projects and maybe less in sports.

EwingCole: Some of the biggest changes are 3-D visualization, design phasing and construction management. Having the ability to create realistic fly-throughs and fully rendered views has made the decision-making process more transparent. It has also aided our clients, and us, in selling the design. The realism and speed of the process allows clients to make decisions with more confidence.

Several of the aspects of the design and construction process have also changed. Fast-track construction and multi-bid packages are no longer an exception, they are the norm. Likewise, the guaranteed maximum price is now concurrent with the design process.

The key players and their roles in the design and construction process have also changed. Architects and construction managers both have greater responsibilities from inception to completion. Construction managers have become integral to the entire decision-making process. In the past, architects were the client’s sole representatives throughout the project. Now it is common for both the architect and construction manager to share this role.

NBBJ: Typically, most projects have been delivered through a design-bid-build system. We are witnessing changes to this structure, including contractors preparing guaranteed maximum price bids based on less than complete construction documents. We’re seeing more design-build delivery, particularly on smaller facilities, and we’re also seeing an increase in owner representation through the use of construction managers and/or program managers.

DI: Why do clients select your firm and why are you getting so much attention now?

HOK: Our extensive project portfolio and satisfied clients speak strongly to the type of service we provide. We really understand the minor league experience, and how to craft a ballpark to best showcase that experience. 

DLR: I don’t know that we are. There is a lot of competition. Sports projects are however, high profile projects. Our projects as an industry are viewed on national television during prime-time. With few exceptions, other types of architecture don’t get that type of exposure.

Clients select our firm because there’s no bait and switch with us. Who we represent with the expertise to design and manage a client’s project, is who does it. In our industry you cannot afford a bad project. One good project needs to incubate another, and another…

EwingCole: EwingCole has more than 40 years of experience in architecture, engineering, interior design and planning. Our expertise allows us to implement innovative designs, but unlike other firms, we have the discipline to deliver on schedule and on budget. We listen to our clients when they articulate their goals. We make sure that our design accommodates a variety of functions and serves a broad range of users—then we make the vision a reality.

NBBJ: I think the simple answer is that NBBJ has raised the bar for sports facility design, setting a new standard that many clients are seeking. Our success in this regard stems from our belief that a venue’s longevity rests on three fundamental values:

1. Iconic Value: the building’s ability to enliven communities and re-invigorate their economic status;

2. Operational Technology: the building’s ability to sustain and adapt to complex uses; and

3. Revenue Enhancing Designs: the ability to create add-on revenue through any method beyond the ticket sales or traditional concessions sales.
 
DI: Where is the sports market sector going in the next five years?

HOK: Compared to the ebbs and flows in other markets, the minor league baseball market has been relatively stable. I don’t see that changing. We’ll continue to focus on new facilities and the renovation of existing facilities. We’ve seen an increasing focus on the development aspects of a ballpark district.  

DLR: In the professional sports market, it is the renovation and renewal of ‘70s sports facilities that don’t have the revenue-generation packages that the ‘90s and 2000s have—for example, the major project we are doing with the America West Arena in Phoenix—an early ‘70s arena that originally didn’t have the amenities that other NBA arenas competitors now have.

The real future growth market is Higher Education sports—lots of colleges and universities and lots of sports, and lots of need to grow revenue to support Title IX gender equity.

EwingCole: In the past 20 years, the world of sports design has turned upside-down. The line between sports and entertainment facilities has completely blurred. There’s no better example than thoroughbred racetracks. The new market type, “racinos,” blends video lottery terminals, racetracks and hospitality amenities. We are no longer designing just a racetrack or just a baseball park. It is all about making the most of the fan experience and enhancing revenue opportunities.

Before designing Citizens Bank Park, we started with two ideas, Phillies baseball and Phillies fans. The open and intimate structure, the landmark light towers, the rooftop bleachers, even the custom baseball wallpaper and carpet, invite fans to make new memories with every visit to the ballpark. Creating this type of experience sets a new benchmark for sports design.
The next wave of sports facilities must also accommodate amateur, children and community participation. Moving from large, expensive multi-purpose facilities to smaller, more manageable and intimate venues will become more popular, especially with the rise of new sporting events like skateboarding, BMX and arena football.

NBBJ: Most of the MLB teams have either recently renovated their stadiums or succeeded in building a new one. However, there continue to be major facilities being built in the Far East. I think we will also continue to see regional baseball facilities being completed in the U.S., as well as an increasing number of collegiate venues.
 
DI: When you sit down with your partners, what are the two or three summary reasons you can give them about new directions in sports design?

DLR:
I guess you could sum it up as,
1. Sports as Entertainment
2. Sports is Entertainment
3. Entertainment is revenue generation.

EwingCole: The two directions sports facilities are headed is extending the event time and providing more amenity options. One major goal of sports design is to create a dynamic fan experience. New design concepts geared toward creating an exciting destination for patrons provide new revenue tools for owners. Whether it’s through unparalleled sight lines, interactive games, historical displays or unique dining atmospheres—embracing a wider audience and addressing that diversity will continue to be important.

NBBJ:
1. Urban, mixed-use facilities, where the stadium component is integrated within a larger context that includes retail, entertainment, hospitality, or other building types. We will see more of this overseas.

2. Multi-purpose venues, capable of creating 24-hour/365-day activity. This has been much easier to achieve with arena projects than with stadiums. The Staples Center is a great example of this, hosting basketball, hockey, concerts, award shows, and the National Democratic Convention, among many others.

3. Financing. While in the past, many facilities have relied entirely on public funding (most often through an increase in sales tax), many of the current projects are being funded by developers, the teams, the professional organizations, or a combination of these.

DI: Looking at the history of baseball stadiums what are your favorites in the majors and minor? Why?

HOK: I’ve worked on so many minor league parks, it’s hard to pick a favorite. It’s like choosing a favorite child. But I do love the Richmond County Ballpark at St. George in Staten Island, New York; Canal Park in Akron, Ohio and First American Bank Ballpark in Midland, Texas.

DLR: My favorite Major League Stadium is Ebbets Field. I was never fortunate to attend a game (It was before my time!) but I understand from old-timers that the geometry of the seating bowl created acoustics that facilitated an incredible intimacy.

My favorite Minor League facility was Clarke Field in Austin, Texas. It exemplifies the uniqueness of what a baseball venue should be (albeit to an extreme). Clarke Field had a 12’ high cliff separating the upper outfield in left field around to right center. Because of this, this field is renowned because more inside-the-park home-runs were hit here than in any other park in history.

EwingCole: The best ballparks are the ones that respond to the natural context and environment. The Polo Grounds, Fenway Park—and in the modern era, Citizens Bank Park and Camden Yards—are examples where the site has a major impact on the feel and character of the ballpark. Citizens Bank Park is located in South Philadelphia and was sited to frame the Center City skyline and to incorporate aspects of the city’s historic architecture and original “four square” layout. Baseball is unique in that regard; a ballpark is as much a result of the place as it is of any other specific design element.

NBBJ: In the majors, I Iike Safeco Field. It’s a state-of-the-art, modern stadium that responds to its existing context and respects the surrounding neighborhoods. I’m also a fan of Wrigley Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Both projects have a strong sense of nostalgia, and while they have a very different aesthetic, they both have a timeless quality.

DI: To close, are there special risk or reward scenarios you see in the future for this market?

HOK: I see us testing new development concepts related to mixed use development integration with sports facility design. This programming mix has not been fully explored, and I think there are exciting opportunities to maximize the entertainment draw of this facility type.  A fully integrated mixed use facility could offer exciting economic opportunities for private developers.

DLR: Any revenue-generating project is risky because of consequential damages for the venue not opening on time. Player and occupant safety will continue to raise as risk factors whose responsibility for safety is often assigned, right or wrong, to the design professional.

EwingCole: The advancement in the technological aspects of stadium design is exciting. The need to provide the latest and most challenging technological advancements will continue to motivate owners and sports fans. As technology continues to inspire architects and clients, the need to be well informed, versatile and open to new ideas will be required of all design professionals.

NBBJ: Sustainability with these buildings is a very important issue for us to consider. There have been many discussions about the long-term viability of these large, single-use facilities. While we’ve seen a trend in creating multi-purpose uses for our arena projects, this has not been as easily accomplished with stadiums.

Rather than continuing to build a new crop of stadiums every 20 years or so, I would like to see the architectural profession and the leagues explore the potential reuse of existing facilities to make them function more effectively. I think the rewards will be in renovation and reuse of existing facilities. There are actually several of them we are working on or we have worked on.