A Chosen Field Architect: The woman who saw to it that Oriole Park earned rave reviews has turned her attention to Atlanta's new stadium.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Instead of creating ornithologically correct Oriole weather vanes, she's worrying about politically correct Native American tomahawks.

Rather than setting up an Orioles Hall of Fame, she's fashioning a "Pennant Wall" featuring National League championship flags and a giant photo of the baseball that Hank Aaron hit for his 715th home run.

In place of Boog's Barbecue, she's cooking up a spot to sell bison meat promoted by Ted Turner.

The names and faces may have changed. But the challenges are very much the same for Janet Marie Smith, the former Orioles architect who now works for Turner's Atlanta Braves.

Five years ago, she was the design conscience for the Orioles, working to make sure their home in Camden Yards opened to rave reviews.

Now, she's trying to do it all over again in Atlanta.

As vice president of planning and development for the National League champions, Smith, 39, is responsible for overseeing completion of the Braves' 50,000-seat ballpark, Turner Field, which is to open in April.

There have been a few changes this time around, however. When she began working for the Orioles, Smith was single. But in 1992, she married F. Barton Harvey III, chairman and chief executive officer of the non-profit Enterprise Foundation, which builds housing for the poor. They have two children -- Bart IV, who will turn 3 next week, and Nellie Grace, almost 1.

She's also doing much of her work long-distance. Even though she works full-time for the Braves, Smith never moved away from Baltimore. Instead, she commutes to her office in Atlanta three days a week and works from her home in Roland Park the rest of the time. She negotiated that arrangement so she could spend more time with her family.

"There are only so many jobs like this, so I feel lucky I can do it without moving," she says. "I'm really, really fortunate that Bart is so enthusiastic about me having a job I love. And I'm lucky the Braves are willing to put up with it this way, too."

The Mississippi-born Smith first gained attention in Baltimore as a sweet-talking, Southern belle architect who proved to be all business -- and more knowledgeable about America's ballparks than most major leaguers.

When Oriole Park opened in 1992, its intimate, old-fashioned design was the talk of the baseball world. A real "Field of Dreams," critics raved.

A slender woman with shoulder-length brown hair and a radiant smile, Smith has a calm and gentle demeanor that belies her boundless energy. Monday night, for example, she and her husband waltzed until after midnight at Tennessee's inaugural ball in Washington, but she was up in time to catch a plane to Atlanta early the next morning.

"Wonder Woman," her assistant calls her.

Maintain the vision

Smith was not the architect of Baltimore's ballpark and never claimed to be. But as the representative for then-owners Eli Jacobs and Larry Lucchino, she made sure Camden Yards stayed true to their vision of an urban park that combined the best traits of hallowed "green cathedrals" with the modern amenities fans and team owners have come to expect, including lucrative sky boxes and club levels.

With the owners' blessing, she was a forceful advocate for saving the B&O; warehouse. She pressed for the upper deck to have a gentle slope and steel supports rather than concrete. She was passionate about reopening Eutaw Street as a pedestrian thoroughfare. And she was behind many of the ballpark's fan-friendly touches, such as the ornate scoreboard and the 1890s Orioles logo at the end of each row of seats.

The success of Oriole Park triggered a wave of back-to-the-city ballpark projects, including stadiums in Cleveland and Denver. Others are in the planning stages for San Francisco, Milwaukee, Detroit and Cincinnati.

After Oriole Park opened, Smith stayed with the team to make sure the stadium was working well. But because of all the acclaim, it was inevitable that another club would hire her to help plan its new home, too.

In 1992, she began working as a consultant for the Atlanta Braves, who wanted to build a ballpark near downtown Atlanta. Initially, the Orioles kept her on the payroll and "lent" her to the Braves, so she could work for both teams. But in 1994, when the Atlanta project moved into high gear, she resigned from the Orioles to work full-time for Turner Properties, the real estate development arm of Turner Broadcasting System, owner of the Braves. It was a logical career move for Smith because Atlanta's stadium was similar in concept to Camden Yards -- an open-air ballpark near the center of town, with an asymmetrical field and natural grass.

If anything, it was even more significant nationally because it wasn't just for the Braves. First, it would be used as the Olympic Stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremonies as well as track and field events during the 1996 Olympics. Then the Braves would take over the 85,000-seat stadium and downsize it for the team's use.

For Smith, that meant designing a stadium twice. It also meant preparing for two different openings, the Olympics last summer and now the Braves' season opener. During the past six months, 35,000 seats have been removed as the stadium is transformed into its baseball configuration.

Just as she did in Baltimore, Smith is working to personalize the ballpark with touches fans will remember, such as the Pennant Wall and an area featuring retired numbers of Braves players. She's also trying to knit this park into the surrounding community, a poor neighborhood called Summerhill, by creating a 3-acre plaza where activity can spill over -- Atlanta's equivalent of the Eutaw Street promenade in Baltimore.

This plaza will contain a museum, shops and restaurants. One highlight will be "Scouts' Alley," an area with batting cages, pitching machines and other interactive exhibits designed to show how scouts size up prospective players.

The area is "not so much about making money as it is about expanding the baseball experience" for fans, Smith explains.

The planning has not been without controversy. Some fans were upset that the park was named after Turner and not Braves hero Aaron. More recently, there has been a debate about the fate of the huge metal "caldron" that held the Olympic flame during the Games. The structure stands just outside the ballpark and features a red cup, which has been likened to a container for french fries.

Another touchy subject has been figuring out how much to use the Braves tomahawk. In its graphics, the team has eliminated Native American images except for the tomahawk, while increasing usage of other images, such as baseballs, silhouettes of Aaron and a stylized "A" for Atlanta.

"We have to be very careful not to tiptoe back" into use of images that offend Native Americans, "no matter how graphically appealing they may be," Smith says. "We have to balance our historic symbol with its appropriateness in today's environment."

Other Turner properties

Although she spends only three days a week in Atlanta, Smith makes the most of her time there.

Besides serving as a Braves vice president, Smith is vice president of sports and entertainment facilities for Turner Properties.

In that capacity, she has been working on plans for a 20,000-seat, $140 million downtown arena for the Atlanta Hawks, another Turner team; $65 million worth of improvements to the area where the arena will rise; renovations to CNN Center, Turner's headquarters; and new television production studios for Turner Sports.

She's also reviewing plans for a spring training facility the Disney Development Co. is building for the Braves in Orlando. And with the recent merger of Turner and Time Warner, she's part of a group evaluating how well the two companies' real estate holdings mesh.

In a typical week, Smith takes the 5: 50 a.m. flight from BWI to Atlanta on Tuesday and comes home by Thursday night. That way, she's in Baltimore from Friday to Monday.

"I have it down to a science," she says. "I leave home at 5 in the morning, get to the airport by 5: 30 and get to the boarding gate by 5: 40. That puts me just under the 10-minute [pre-boarding] rule. I know all the Delta agents, and they all know me."

In Atlanta, she works from early morning to late at night in her office at CNN Center. Overnight, she stays in a room at the Omni hotel, which is part of the CNN complex, and checks out every Thursday. She has been very careful not to take too much clothing or too many possessions to Atlanta and has resisted setting up any kind of apartment there even though that would be more convenient.

"It's very important to me and to my family that I only have one home," she says.

Smith admits it's difficult to juggle commuting with motherhood, but not impossible. A family friend watches the children when Smith is away, picking them up from day care when necessary. Smith and her husband coordinate their schedules so both aren't out of town at the same time.

"We try real hard to make sure there's always one parent at home, so Bart travels on Mondays and Fridays if I'm gone midweek," Smith says. "The weekends are really important to us. We don't do as many social or civic things as we used to.

"It's not as crazy as it sounds, because I think a lot of people end up having to travel a couple of days a week, no matter what they do. It's just that my traveling is more part of my routine.

"People think it's hard with little kids, but I'm used to it because I've been doing it for a while. And on the days that I'm home, I get to do more 'mom' things than if I were at work from 9 to 5. So I think it probably balances out."

The arrangement was tested last March when she was pregnant with Nellie Grace just as the stadium was nearing completion for the Olympics. She worked up until she gave birth on March 13 and then took two months off -- twice the amount of time she took when her son was born.

Fortunately, she said, "the stadium was pretty much functional by then." And because the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games was in charge of the final preparations rather than the Braves, "the burden didn't fall on us."

It would be much more problematic if she were pregnant now, just as the Braves are putting the finishing touches on Turner Field, she said. "There is no question that this opening is more intense for us."

Cities come first

Although her last two jobs have been sports-related, Smith considers herself primarily an urban planner and is most happy working on projects that energize cities.

"I don't think of myself as a sports guru," she says. "I think of myself as an urban guru. Sports is fun, but it's projects in cities that I care about. That's why Turner is such a great company to work for."

As the baseball park nears completion, she has begun to search for ways to make the Hawks' downtown arena as distinctive for basketball as the new urban ballparks are for baseball.

"Baseball has had a breakthrough project, but basketball is still pretty much the same," she says. "I'm interested in changing the prototype."

Few women are so instrumental in shaping major sports projects. But Smith doesn't particularly consider herself a pioneer, because "I wasn't the first woman in any of these settings, by any means."

A graduate of Mississippi State University and the City College of New York, Smith says she believes women architects today have more opportunities because of changed attitudes in the workplace.

"Many of the men in decision-making capacities now have grown up with working mothers, or women classmates in college, or women in their professional lives," she says. "They've grown up thinking of women differently" than the previous generation did.

Though she's no longer on the Orioles' staff, Smith is still a fan. She and her husband have season tickets and take their children as often as possible.

"It's a real treat to be able to go to a game at Camden Yards and just enjoy the game. And it's a double pleasure, now that I have a family, to be able to take them to a place that means so much to me."

Pub Date: 1/22/97

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
59°