Unsung heroes of Camden Yards


When the spotlight shines on Baltimore and its ballpark during the All-Star Game next week, many people who deserve credit for its success may not even be in the crowd.

To be sure, plenty of the key figures will be on hand -- the Orioles' owners and executives, Maryland Stadium Authority officials, the architects with Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Sports Facilities Group. But over the years, countless others have contributed ideas that influenced the design of Oriole Park at Camden Yards yet received little or no recognition.

Some issued reports showing why Camden Yards was an ideal place to build a stadium -- indirectly fueling a back-to-the-city trend in sports architecture.

Others offered suggestions for knitting the ballpark into the city, or making it a one-of-a-kind attraction by preserving the B&O; Warehouse and Camden Station.

In various ways, all are unsung heroes who helped make the Orioles' new home better than it would have been without their involvement.

In the early 1980s, for example, architect Robert M. Schiffman prepared a study showing how Camden Yards could be converted from a loosely knit industrial park to a full-fledged sports district. His recommendation -- that the area contain a new ballpark, indoor arena, "retail village," hotels and other commercial uses -- was one of the first comprehensive visions showing how exciting the west side of downtown could be if devoted to sports uses.

In 1983, Baltimore businessmen Morton Macks and Willard Hackerman acquired the B&O; Warehouse from CSX Corp. and announced plans to turn it into a multilevel retail center called Harbor Exchange. Although the project never materialized, their work drew attention to a building previously seen as a white elephant.

As the first director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, Chris Delaporte laid the groundwork for much of the site-sensitive design activity that followed. In a previous job, Mr. Delaporte commissioned a preservation study showing how the 1857 Camden Station could be restored.

One of the first real hints of what a Camden Yards ballpark might look like came from Eric Moss, a Syracuse University student who designed one in 1987 for his fifth-year architecture thesis. The scale model he brought to town after graduation presented an alluring vision of a ballpark that opens up to the city, providing sweeping views of the downtown skyline. In many ways it presaged the current ballpark, down to the curved seating bowl and recycled warehouse behind right field.

That same year, consultants to the Stadium Authority recommended Camden Yards as the construction site. In response, the Baltimore Planning Department's urban design section published a report that stressed the need to tailor the ballpark to the area and not build a flying saucer or concrete doughnut.

Staff planners Don Duncan, Ernie Caldwell and Al Barry recommended saving the warehouse and Camden Station linking the ballpark to the light rail system and identifying ways to trigger spinoff development.

The Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects sparked public debate by issuing position papers and sponsoring design workshops for owners of property near Camden Yards.

In 1989, the principals of Ayers Saint Gross Architects produced a full-blown design to show the Stadium Authority, which was then hiring a ballpark architect. Ayers Saint Gross didn't get the job but many of its ideas were retained, including an asymmetrical field, reconstruction of Eutaw Street, and use of structural steel rather than concrete to support the upper deck.

Finally, Baltimore's Architectural Review Board made an important contribution when it sharply criticized plans by a state agency to attach an ugly, eight-story office building to one side of the warehouse. The plans were withdrawn.

Ballpark symposium

As part of All Star Week festivities, the American Institute of Architects is sponsoring a public forum on ballpark design. It will be held at 9 a.m. July 13 in the B&O; Warehouse. Tickets are $12 each and may be obtained by calling the AIA at (800) 365-2724.

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