SBJ/March 26-April 1, 2012/Facilities

Clean and classy, Orioles’ spring home provides a blueprint for future refurb projects



The Baltimore Orioles changed the course of ballpark development at Camden Yards, and now they have done the same thing in Florida.

Two years after the Orioles moved their spring training operation to Sarasota from Fort Lauderdale, the team has put the finishing touches on $40 million in renovations to Ed Smith Stadium, the club’s administration/clubhouse building next door and its minor league complex.

The Orioles transformed a tired-looking ballpark …
Photo by: BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The same elegance and richness of design the Orioles applied to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, MLB’s first retro ballpark, is evident at their cozy, 7,500-seat ballpark, which originally opened in 1989 for the Chicago White Sox and was later home to the Cincinnati Reds.

In the process, the Orioles have established a model for what other Grapefruit League clubs can do to refurbish their parks, including the Minnesota Twins, a team working with Lee County officials to improve 21-year-old Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers (see story).

… into a Grapefruit League gem.
Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
In Sarasota County, the Orioles took a tired-looking park and transformed it into a classy venue. It reflects the clean look that the Angelos family, the team’s owner, believes a ballpark should project.

Give credit for the masterful renovation to Janet Marie Smith, the developer for both Camden Yards and upgrades to Fenway Park, and now Ed Smith Stadium. Orioles executives John and Lou Angelos, sons of team Chairman and CEO Peter Angelos, also played key roles in the project.

More from the tour
Fenway takes flight in Florida.
Smith, rehired by the Orioles in 2009 as vice president of planning and development, met with local historians in Sarasota and studied the city’s architecture, most notably the Ringling Museum of Art. (Sarasota is the winter home of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus).

Architect David Schwarz, part of a group that planned The Ballpark at Arlington as well as some museums and federal projects in Washington, D.C., designed the new stucco facade. It is a stunning re-creation of a spring training facility in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The building’s exterior, with its arched window frames, decorative tiles and red thatched roof, is reminiscent of a 19th-century Spanish-American church. The grand design gives the facility a lush look within its Florida surroundings.
Inside the park, fans will not see advertising clutter. The Orioles consolidated their sponsors, the hotels, restaurants and arts and attractions in Sarasota, and created “partner walls” on the main concourse for each
of those three categories.

The sponsors have told the Orioles that the exposure in one dedicated space is an effective marketing tool.

“It draws more attention to them, and to these walls, than if they had just some little banner somewhere,” said Laura Williams, the Orioles’ director of Florida operations.
Developer Janet Marie Smith met with local historians and studied the city's architecture to come up with the stadium's redesign.
Photos by: DON MURET / STAFF (3)

The club expanded the park’s pathways, adding an upper concourse to give their fans more space to move around. The left-field pavilion, a popular hangout featuring bistro-style tables and drink rails, gives fans a true feel for the Florida spring training experience.

The park has two air-conditioned rooms open to the public — Cafe 54 and the team store — for fans to escape the hot Florida sun. Cafe 54, a sit-down deli that added Chick-fil-A products this year, is a luxury not seen at many spring training facilities.

The Orioles’ rebranding inside Ed Smith Stadium starts at the Home Plate Gate. Just past the turnstiles hangs the team’s “championship chandelier” made of Louisville Slugger P72 bats, the model used by Baltimore hall of famer Cal Ripken Jr.

The life-size bobblehead in the right-field corner is a popular attraction.
Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF
The life-size Oriole mascot bobblehead in the right-field corner came from Oriole Park and is one of Ed Smith’s most popular attractions. The big bird underwent a “nose job” in the offseason, necessary because kids like to smack its beak to see it bobble, Williams said.

New this year are the finished interiors for the three World Series suites themed for the 1966, 1970 and 1983 championship teams. Each suite comes with 30 tickets and costs $1,200 to $1,500 a game depending on the opponent.

For Williams, a Baltimore native, the 1970 World Series suite and the large photograph of Brooks Robinson jumping for joy bring back memories of her childhood rooting for the home team. The suite enhancements bring extra color to what were mostly blank walls last season.

“We were so close to the wire last year [with completing the renovation] that we were renting furniture for the suites,” Williams said. “Now fans that saw the park last year are seeing a new ballpark this year because so much of what we had last year was temporary.”

Season-ticket holders at Ed Smith Stadium can upgrade their seats for about $20 to cover a buffet meal inside the Home Plate Suite. The homemade pies from Troyer’s Dutch Heritage, a local restaurant, are a big hit with the natives and visitors from Baltimore, Williams said.

As part of the renovation, the bullpens were relocated from outside the outfield fences, giving fans the opportunity to see pitchers warming up. Getting close to the players is a key difference between spring training and the regular season, Williams said.

The left-field pavilion gives off such a great vibe that many season-ticket holders moved their seats there from behind home plate. The pavilion was revamped late in the design, tripled in size with a higher elevation, John Angelos said.

The pavilion and other parts of Ed Smith Stadium give fans more elbow room without sacrificing the building’s intimate feel.

“Even in the midst of our sellout games with the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies, the park is alive but you don’t feel like someone is on top of you; fans can still walk freely through the park and enjoy it,” Williams said.

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