A Ballpark Marriage

Designing a city-owned ballpark is one thing; designing a minor-league ballpark is another. But what happens when a city owns the minor-league park? In this scenario, the architect’s responsibility as design leader is critical to creating a successful venue.

OSports--Osborn Sports and Recreation Architecture of Cleveland, Ohio--is enjoying the challenges of this role as the firm leads the architectural and engineering design of The Ballpark at Avon, with local firm RWL Architects. The sports and recreation venue is owned by the city of Avon, Ohio, and is being built as the home for an independent Frontier League expansion team.

Avon wanted a premier event facility that would serve multiple purposes in the community throughout the year; the Frontier League wanted a first-class facility for a new team and its management. Some of the objectives were different, but not incompatible, as the architects attempt to meet everyone’s goals by Opening Day in May 2009.

The Ballpark

Fans will enter a ballpark that recalls the look of traditional stadiums of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, featuring a brick façade. After crossing a broad concourse, the fans will walk toward an artificial-turf field that stretches 410 feet from home plate to the deepest part of center field. An intimate seating bowl of 3,000 fixed seats is augmented by 500 seats among concourse tables and chairs, and suites with party patios. Lawn seating will accommodate 1,500 on a raised grass berm at the edge of the outfield, where visitors can spread out blankets and picnic. Amenities include concessions along the main concourse, a kid’s-zone playground, loges and a party tent for businesses, groups and families.

Baseball industry professionals will be accommodated with a press box, management offices, clubhouses for home and away teams, training facilities, umpire rooms and ample storage space for practice and maintenance equipment.

The Players

According to Christopher Wynn, Director of Design for OSports, the project has a number of stakeholders whose needs his team is working to meet. “The City of Avon is our client, so we work closely with the mayor and city officials, while at the same time collaborating with Frontier League officials. In addition, we are constantly thinking about the residents and visitors who will be attending ballgames, concerts, fireworks shows, and other events at the venue as we design.”

Wynn explained that for Mayor Jim Smith, the ballpark is one of two significant features of a 122-acre sports and recreation center, the second being a new YMCA. Additional potential projects include an ice hockey and skating rink, splash park, soccer fields, baseball fields and other sports-related commercial developments. “His mandate to us as designers was to create a family-friendly environment that could accommodate kids, adults, businesses and organizations. His vision is to see the ballpark as a recreation magnet, drawing people together at a safe and fun entertainment destination.”

Meanwhile, the Frontier League has different priorities. “Their goals are to create a state-of-the-art venue that attracts investors to finance the team; build a strong leadership group to manage and coach the new team; facilitate player recruitment; and offer varying ticket price opportunities to encourage the broadest range of park visitors,” said Wynn.

Specifically, the League had two requirements:

· Paths between players and patrons are not permitted to cross, so the clubhouse is slightly below the concourse, which bridges over where the players come onto the field.

· Players from opposing teams require separate locker room areas and entryways to the field to keep players apart until the game begins. OSports created a clever design solution, which allows the workout facilities to be shared by home and away team players.

The Game Plan

The citizens of Avon approved an income tax of 0.25 percent to fund the sports and recreation center, so Wynn and his team are mindful that the community will be the ultimate user. “We visited ballparks in Dayton, Ohio, and Florence, Kentucky, to study what creates the optimal fan experience. We’ve incorporated these ideas and feel that fans of all ages are going to have a great time during games and events.”

There are a number of suggestions Wynn offers for creating a design that successfully meets everyone’s needs. Here are the most important considerations for a project of this nature and complexity:

Communicate for Consensus

· Ensure that stakeholders are given the opportunity to provide input throughout the design process. To facilitate this, OSports held design meetings with Avon officials and Frontier League representatives.

· Define all user groups as well as their needs and desires up front.

· Help stakeholders prioritize and select the ideal amenities for each user group.

· Facilitate communications to reach consensus on accommodating the varying needs of all user groups.

Create Community Buy-In

· Keep the citizens who are providing the tax dollars informed at key milestones throughout the project to create ongoing enthusiasm.

· Support city and league communication efforts by supplying site plans, renderings and other information as the design evolves.

Design For All Potential Audiences

· Gathering places--Provide multiple places for parents and children to congregate and move around.

· Lawn seating--Give little ones freedom to spend energy without being confined to a seat.

· Kid’s zone--Keep younger fans happy and engaged at the park.

· Walkway around the outfield--Create a virtual track for families and kids who are a little older to explore.

· Portable food vendors--Provide concessions for picnickers beyond the centerfield area.

· Loges—Design for businesses and for flexibility. At Avon, 11 flexible suites are available, eight of which have flexible walls allowing for groups ranging in size from four to 40.

· Party Tent--Provide places for large groups to gather. The tent at Avon will provide a higher ticket level and special admission to the tent where a buffet meal and beverages will be included.

Plan For Those Behind The Scenes

For a first-class facility, player amenities should include:

· Attached clubhouse with lounge and training facility

· Separate facilities for the home and away teams

· Laundry and equipment storage areas

· On-site offices and conference room

Design Yearly Amenity Enhancements

· Create a phasing plan to introduce new ballpark amenities on a yearly basis so they can be showcased as improvements.

· Phasing in ballpark enhancement gives owners something to publicize and celebrate each season, which creates ongoing excitement for fans and helps to generate ticket sales.

Incorporate Design Trends--Design A Broad Concourse

· Ballpark concourses are wider than in times past, providing space for more vendors and activities, such as face-painting or balloon sculpting.

· Fans that congregate near concession and souvenir stands tend to purchase snacks or special mementos.