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The Orioles’ agreement and the state’s approval of a long-term lease on Monday allow the team to spend $600 million on improvements to Camden Yards.
When the ballpark opened in 1992, it was unique. Critically acclaimed, it was a must-see on every baseball fan’s list.
It’s still a great place to watch a game, but it needs work.
Orioles Chair and Managing Partner John Angelos has made it clear that he wanted the next era of Camden Yards to be more than just watching a game.
Angelos has ideas about what he’d like to do with the surrounding area. That’s why the lease agreement took so long. If it had been simply about the ballpark, it would have long been done.
The Orioles have four years to agree with the state on a plan to develop the area around the stadium, specifically the Warehouse building and the building where the Maryland Sports Legends and Geppi Entertainment Museum once occupied.
Those plans will take a long time to be negotiated, but they’re part of the next frontier of stadiums and arenas — what to do with the surrounding area.
Just last week, Washington Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis shocked the Nation’s Capital when he and Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin announced plans for a new arena and entertainment complex in Alexandria, less than 5 miles from the team’s current home, Capital One Arena.
Other sports teams — the Atlanta Braves, New England Patriots and St. Louis Cardinals — have either moved to areas with plenty of land to build restaurants and hotels, or taken the land around the existing ballparks and added to it.
That’s what the Orioles want to do. The area around Oriole Park is prime real estate and while former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey had a restaurant that bore his name for several years, that space is currently occupied by a sports book.
Surprisingly, there aren’t many options in the immediate area of the ballpark. There are hotels and a couple of sports-type bars, Pickle’s Pub, which has been there for years, and Section 771, which used to be called Sliders across Camden Street.
Development of the Warehouse and Sports Legends Museum building is probably several years away. Making Camden Yards a destination before and after games is a great idea, and I’m eager to see the plans.
When the ballpark was new, tourists flocked to the Inner Harbor. It’s been a long time since many tourists went there, and redevelopment plans for it are being widely debated.
Even more intriguing is what the Orioles are going to try to do to the ballpark itself. Details have been trickling out
There’s the obvious stuff. A new scoreboard has been badly needed for years and could be acting upon fairly quickly. The sound system is hard to hear for many fans, and money will undoubtedly be used for that.
Those are upgrades that will improve the ballpark experience for all fans. Many of the renovations may not be enjoyed by all fans.
There weren’t many new parks built around the time of Oriole Park. The Toronto Blue Jays’ SkyDome, which is now called Rogers Centre, has already undergone a huge refurbishment, and the Chicago White Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field, which opened the year before Camden Yards, is badly in need of updating. The team’s owner, Jerry Reisdorf, is hoping for massive upgrades.
Unlike newer parks, Camden Yards has relatively narrow concourses, and when larger crowds returned to the park last year, it was hard to navigate before games. So many of the newer parks around baseball have much wider concourses, not to mention more appetizing food options.
Fans can’t watch the game while they’re getting food and drink, and it will be interesting to see if something can be done to make that possible.
In the early 1990s, Baltimore was more of a corporate hub, and there wasn’t another team 35 miles to the south. It was easier to lease luxury suites then.
It’s not the Orioles’ fault that there’s not a single Fortune 500 corporation in Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins, the city’s largest employer, isn’t likely to buy expensive new seats.
The Orioles don’t have premium boxes, and everyday fans can still buy excellent seats with a group of friends or business associates.
There’s no private club to gather pregame or postgame for box-seat holders, and that will change, too.
Over the years, there have been additions and adjustments. The center field roof-deck seats were added in 2012. Before the 2022 season, the left -ield wall was raised and its distance lengthened with the loss of about 1,000 seats.
Other classic ballparks — Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium — have made changes to their design. Wrigley’s took several years, and it’s likely that the Orioles’ changes probably will take that long, too.
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