Shrinking the ballpark

One of the challenges for urbanists is how to prevent ballparks from becoming enormous. “Most of the traditional ballparks were on sites of no more than eight to 10 acres,” says Kevin Klinkenberg, a principal in 180 Degree Design Studio in Kansas City, Missouri. “Contemporary ballparks are about 13 to 14 acres.” San Diego’s Petco Park, including its public park, is 18 acres. The Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park is even larger: 21 acres.

Two factors feeding the growth are an insistence on column-free seating with unobstructed views and owners’ desires for practically self-contained bar, restaurant, and entertainment zones. “Part of what any team is trying to do is capture as much revenue as possible, especially in the smaller cities,” says Klinkenberg. “From an urban design standpoint, you’d like to get some of that [restaurant and bar activity] out on the street.”

A possible solution, according to Klinkenberg, is to encourage the team owner to develop restaurants across the street from the ballpark. The restaurants would enliven the surroundings while providing the team with some of the revenue it needs. Chicago architect Philip Bess concurs, noting that having more public amenities outside the park is a key contributor to neighborhood vitality. “Wrigley Field is the best example of that,” Bess says. For many years, he notes, people living near Wrigley have watched Cubs games from their rooftops. Several years ago, building owners started converting the rooftops into private clubs and charging admission. The Cubs sued, claiming the building owners were, in effect, selling the Cubs’ product. The dispute has been resolved with a compromise in which the Cubs now receive about 20 percent of the gross revenues of the rooftop owners, Bess says.

Though Wrigley’s mix of baseball and neighborhood life may have come about more through serendipity than though planning, it does suggest that with ingenious ideas, teams can sometimes forgo new or very large ballparks. At Fenway Park in Boston, one idea that generated additional revenue was the installation of seats above the tall left-field wall known as the Green Monster. A Page One story in the April 16, 2004, New York Times credited the new owners of the Boston Red Sox with that idea. Actually, that idea, along with other suggestions about how to save and upgrade Fenway Park, came from a new urbanist charrette in 2000 that Bess led and that included Klinkenberg, Patrick Pinnell, Rolando Llanes, Howard Decker, Robert Barrero, and Travis Vaughan. (See Sept. 2003 New Urban News.)