Why Baltimore opted not to build a waterfront stadium for the Orioles

Clockwise from bottom left: A proposed stadium at Port Covington, AT&T Park in San Francisco, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and Candlestick Park in San Francisco. AP & staff photos.
Clockwise from bottom left: A proposed stadium at Port Covington, AT&T Park in San Francisco, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and Candlestick Park in San Francisco. AP & staff photos. (AP & Staff photos / Baltimore Sun)
A study in the late 1980s proposed a multi-purpose stadium at Port Covington as an alternative to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Imagining a South Baltimore version of a waterfront facility like AT&T Park in San Francisco may not sound so bad — with Chris Davis mashing pitches into the water, rather than onto Eutaw Street.
But, one official involved in Baltimore’s stadium decision-making at that time says the location wasn’t right for the needs of the city.
“I fear, at that point in time, that a ballpark at Port Covington would have been more like Candlestick [Park] than AT&T [Park],” said Janet Marie Smith, a former Orioles executive involved in the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The proposal for the Port Covington location called for a multi-purpose stadium — remember, Baltimore wouldn’t get the Ravens until 1996 — surrounded by a sea of parking spaces, rather than actual water.
In fact, the parking was one of the big draws of the location.
One plan from Hellmuth, Obata, Kassabaum, Inc. (HOK) called for parking lots to hold 13,250 cars — about twice the number of spaces the initial Camden Yards site provided before the football stadium was built.
The primary draw of Port Covington was the acreage: 136 acres vs. the 85 acres at Camden Yards, according to the HOK study.
“Port Covington had enough land that one could have done a big, multipurpose stadium," Smith said. "The other reality of Camden Yards was, the only way to have done a multipurpose stadium on that site was to tear the warehouse down.”
The HOK study showed total development costs for the projects as comparable, but with Camden Yards ($166.8M) priced out slightly higher than Port Covington ($154.4M).
But Camden Yards offered a site in an area of downtown surrounded by residences and businesses.
There was daytime parking in place for the 9-to-5 job crowd, the mass transit already in place, and the access to highways. Camden Yards required one ramp to be built off Interstate 95, limiting the new infrastructure required in the area around the ballpark.
“I don’t have any ‘I wonder ifs’ about that,” Smith said of the Port Covington location.
The Orioles held the 25th home opener at Camden Yards on Monday, offering Smith — now with the Los Angeles Dodgers — a chance to reflect upon the milestone.
Smith, who still resides part-time in Baltimore and broke into the business with a background in urban planning as opposed to sports facility construction, is excited about the prospects of the current plan for Port Covington.
Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, has proposed a multipurpose development featuring a new campus for his sports apparel company. Sagamore Development's project would establish a new neighborhood and skyline with up to 13 million square feet of offices, homes, stores and restaurants, and a shore remade with parks and running paths.
The master plan actually calls for a waterfront stadium — albeit a significantly smaller one, likely to be used for private events on the Under Armour campus.
“Today you look at it, and you think, 'Good for Under Armour.' It’s just what it needs to make that development. They have a significant opportunity to change the city with a campus, where, not only the place you work, but he whole lifestyle of your employees, the public spaces, the restaurants, are really important to attract the employee. And I don’t think a ballpark could have ever jumpstarted that, the way that Under Armour can.”
On the flip side, a football/baseball stadium in Port Covington, Smith says, couldn’t have done for downtown Baltimore what Oriole Park at Camden Yards did for the city’s Inner Harbor
“I don’t think that, had [the stadium] been put [at Port Covington], that it would have changed the march of urban development,” Smith said. “I think what’s nice about Camden Yards — it allowed the city’s geographic definition of what was downtown to grow. It was just far enough on the edge of downtown to redefine downtown.”
A generation later, Smith sees an opportunity for Baltimore to grow and redefine itself again.
“This is 30 years later,” Smith said. “Cities can only grow so far so fast. I think it's fabulous that it's now Port Covington’s time.”