SBJ/July 26 - August 1, 1999/No Topic Name

Major firms playing in the minors, too

The lineup of architects who design minor league ballparks looks strikingly similar to the list of big players in major league stadium design.

As in major league design, Kansas City, Mo., is the center of the universe.

Big players include HOK Sports Facilities Group, HNTB Sports Architecture Group and Ellerbe Becket, all based in Kansas City. DLR Group of Tampa and Heery International and Rosser International, both of Atlanta, also are active.

HOK's sports architecture division employs more than 250 people, about 20 of whom focus on minor league parks. HOK's current projects include the 14,320-seat AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tenn., to be the home of the St. Louis Cardinals' Class AAA affiliate, and a 6,200-seat park in Newark, N.J.

Its resume includes Victory Field in Indianapolis and the Durham Bulls' home in North Carolina. HOK also designed the $28 million stadium that is the spring training home of the Cardinals and Montreal Expos and home of the Class A Jupiter Hammerheads in Florida.

HOK typically teams up with local architecture firms when doing projects, said HOK senior associate Steven Boyd.

"It's always good to have someone local who can be more responsive," Boyd said.

Another Kansas City firm is boosting its minor league presence. HNTB has four minor league parks under construction, including the $26.3 million Louisville Slugger Field in Kentucky; a 7,000-seat park in Dayton, Ohio; a 6,000-seat stadium in Sevierville, Tenn.; and a 6,000-seat park in Suffolk County, N.Y.

HNTB also designed the Lansing Lugnuts' Oldsmobile Park in Michigan and parks in Appleton, Wis.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Port Charlotte, Fla. The firm employs 20 architects who work on minor league stadiums and other sports facilities, said HNTB principal Martin DiNitto.

While HNTB has built plenty of national expertise, its knowledge doesn't always extend to local codes and local contacts, DiNitto said. So, like HOK, HNTB teams up with local architecture firms.

Still, DiNitto said, a local firm might find itself overmatched by a complicated and specialized project such as Louisville Slugger Field, which includes the renovation of a 100-year-old warehouse and redevelopment of a rundown area.

"Many of these ballparks are reclaiming areas of inner-city urban blight," DiNitto said. "Many of these stadiums are in difficult sites. They're accomplishing fan-friendly amenities that are difficult to do."

Ellerbe Becket also has a handful of minor league parks on its resume, including the $33 million Frontier Field in Rochester, N.Y.; the $16 million Ottawa Baseball Stadium in Ontario; the $7 million Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, Md.; and the $5.5 million Cohen Center in El Paso, Texas.

Not every minor league team wants a national firm to design its park, however. The Carolina Mudcats chose a Charlotte firm, Odell Associates Inc., to refurbish their park in Zebulon, N.C.

The reason? The team didn't want its stadium to be a carbon copy.

The park includes arches and a dark-green roof and might have a cupola similar to the one at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, said Joe Kremer, the Mudcats' general manager.

"Our stadium has sort of a Southern flair," Kremer said. "A lot of stadiums want to be copies of Camden Yards."

Odell Associates architects visited several minor and major league parks to glean ideas for the Mudcats' home, said Odell's Mac Fake. The park is the second minor league project for Odell, which also designed Knights Stadium near Charlotte in the 1980s.

"There's no way to say we're an HOK, and we don't want to be thought of that way," Fake said. "We bring a different viewpoint."

Jeff Ostrowski is a writer living in Florida.

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