The Maryland Stadium Authority yesterday began to spend the $10 million an arbitration panel awarded to the Orioles more than two years ago in their contentious "parity" dispute with the state.
The stadium authority voted to pay HOK Sports $243,350 to develop specific designs for upgrades to Camden Yards.
Richard W. Slosson, the authority's executive director, said he wants the changes to "retain the character of Camden Yards, but at the same time make it better."
Improvements that Slosson suggested could be completed by Opening Day 2004 include adding a bar or restaurant where friends could gather while being able to see the field and "ribbon" display boards similar to those on the facade inside M&T; Bank Stadium. The Orioles and the stadium authority expect to look at HOK's ideas by early January, he said.
Joseph E. Foss, the Orioles' vice chairman and chief operating officer, estimated that the $10 million is at least five times more than what has been spent to improve Camden Yards since it opened in 1992.
"Don't look at the fact that ballparks today brand new are $300-plus million," he said. "Ten million dollars to be invested in a building that's already well established will go a long way."
Kansas City, Mo.-based HOK, the original designer of the ballpark, won the contract over three other architectural companies, including Baltimore-based RTKL Associates Inc.; CDFM2, also of Kansas City, Mo.; and HKS Inc. of Dallas.
Slosson said that in January, the Orioles and the authority asked the architects - without any guidelines - to come up with ways to "spend $10 million to make this a better ballpark."
Said Foss: "We didn't want to suggest, 'Why don't you look at this or look at that,' because we had seen this in another ballpark. We felt that would be inhibiting their creative energies and their abilities. It was a competition."
The companies reported back to Baltimore in March, Slosson said, and their PowerPoint presentations were attended by members of the Orioles' front office, including Foss and executive vice president John P. Angelos. In April, the companies made similar presentations to principal owner Peter G. Angelos.
After the Orioles and the stadium authority selected HOK in July, representatives from all three groups took trips to stadiums in Cincinnati, San Francisco, St. Louis and Anaheim, Calif.
"One of the things we found in a lot of new stadiums ... younger people don't want to go with six guys and sit in a seat," Slosson said. "They want to go stand up, talk, drink a beer during the game, if somebody cheers, they can turn their head and see it, but they don't have to really look at it.
"That's one of the things we're looking to do short-term. Can you do something around here somewhere around the outfield or somewhere to create that?"
Foss was more cautious about predicting what could be accomplished by April.
"I would expect that the bulk of the $10 million will be spent over a multi-year period, so you won't see everything done in the first year, although we do think there are some things that can be done for the 2004 season," he said.
"I think that when you look back after the $10 million is spent that there will be noticeable changes and improvements to this great facility," he said. "I don't think that it's just going to be cosmetic."
In July 2001, a panel of arbitrators ordered the state to pay for $10 million in stadium improvements to Camden Yards and gave the Orioles the naming rights to the stadium. The decision, which came after years of contentiousness over the issue between the Orioles and the stadium authority, was based on the "parity" clause of the baseball team's lease, which guarantees treatment comparable to that given the Ravens.
At the time, the arbitrators' decision was viewed as mixed, because the panel rejected the Orioles' demands for extra skyboxes and $50 million in rent credits, among other things.
In contrast, Slosson said recent talks between the Orioles and the stadium authority about improvements have "actually been great, not in the slightest way contentious."