What NY Baseball Can Learn from Red Sox

Event: Take Me Out to the Brand-New Ballpark
Location: Museum of the City of New York, 09.27.07
Speakers: John Pastier — Architecture Critic & Author, Historic Ballparks (Chartwell Books, 2006); Janet Marie Smith — Senior Vice President of Planning and Development, Boston Red Sox; Andrew Zimbalist — Stadium Consultant, Author, In the Best Interests of Baseball? (Wiley, 2007), & Professor of Economics, Smith College
Moderator: Frank Deford — Sportswriter, Novelist, Correspondent, HBO & NPR
Organizers: Museum of the City of New York

Yankee Stadium

“The Façade” at Yankee Stadium is a replica of the original copper frieze that ran around the grandstand’s upper deck. The frieze will return to the upper deck roof in the new Yankee Stadium, designed by HOK Sport.

Photo credit goes here.

In association with The Glory Days: New York Baseball 1947-1957 exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, experts in the field discussed what made old ballparks unique, how the suburbanization of America affected ballpark design, and why current trends in ballpark architecture take cues from the past.

Old ball fields began as urban parks; the size of the fields depended on the size of city blocks. As structures developed around the parks, they blended with the surrounding neighborhoods. Originally financed by city governments, at a time when team salaries were more reasonable, ball fields and players were an integral part of community life. And with cheap ticket prices, everone in the community could enjoy the games, meanwhile creating camaraderie across classes. Known as jewel box parks, Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium represent this era.

In the 1960s and 70s, ballpark designs changed to accommodate car culture and became studies in parking lot planning and cookie-cutter construction. Shea Stadium, built in 1960, is an example of these types of arenas with its circular shape and ability to be converted into a football stadium. Multi-use was a priority, not intimacy. It wasn’t until 1992, when Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore was constructed, that designers began looking to the past to recapture what was lost. Sited downtown near the waterfront, it is accessible to all city dwellers. To make Camden Yards unique to Baltimore, an old warehouse was preserved in right field. While it helped revitalize the surrounding neighborhood, unfortunately its economic success is rare among new ballparks.

Oddly enough, new stadiums have not been found to bring prosperity to a neighborhood, says Andrew Zimbalist, stadium consultant, author, and economics professor at Smith College. Since there are only 81 home games per season, the areas surrounding stadiums tend to be blighted most of the year. Also, players can afford to live away from the cities in which they play. With high salaries, income goes to their hometowns and does not filter back into the city’s local economy. However, if new parks bring auxiliary development in addition to the stadium, such as housing and year-round amenities, the profit margin goes up.

The upcoming Yankees and Mets stadiums will be new construction, but planners are trying to preserve the nostalgia of old ballparks and include modern amenities to be economically viable. Both teams should use parks such as Boston’s Fenway Park as a model, claims Janet Marie Smith, senior vice president of planning and development for Boston Red Sox (who also helped plan and develop Camden Yards). Fenway, a jewel box constructed in 1912, has been able to endure all trends with a few minor modern-day improvements such as increasing aisle sizes and adding bleacher seats above the Green Monster. Despite being one of the smallest ballparks, it is able to be financially successful because of the adjacent Yawkey Way, which has year-round concessions, restaurants, and bars. With NY baseball fans as fervent as Boston’s, there is hope for success in future development.