Opinion: Ideas to Reimagine Oriole Park at Camden Yards

| July 14, 2023 | 0 Comments

Let me start this article by saying I’m not an architect, I’m not a builder, I’m not a city planner, and I’m not a columnist. I have no inside connections to the upper management of the Orioles, they certainly don’t come to me for advice, and I have no inside knowledge on the team’s plans for Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

That said, I am someone who knows South Baltimore and its neighborhoods well, a journalist who covers business and real estate in the city, a ‘big ideas’ guy for Baltimore, a huge Orioles fan, a stadium nerd who follows many stadium forums and blogs, and someone who thinks about ways to improve Oriole Park every time I sit in the stands or drive by the complex. So, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and add them to the conversation.

The team is eligible for $600 million in state bonds to improve Oriole Park if a stadium lease extension is signed. Orioles Chair and Managing Partner John Angelos  said they “look forward to reimagining Camden Yards to deliver a live, work, play theme that will bring residents, businesses, and tourists to downtown Baltimore year-round.”

The team and Maryland Governor Wes Moore released a joint statement Thursday saying, “We’ve laid the groundwork for success, and progress is also being made on our vision to expand and revitalize the Camden Yards campus.”

Here are some of the ideas I have to refine one of America’s great ballparks, integrate it better with the surrounding neighborhoods, make it a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Baltimore, and make it a better asset for Baltimoreans almost every day of the year.

Eliminating Sections of the Upper Deck Left Field

The upper deck left field seats have only been open for two games this year. This creates views of completely empty sections on television on every camera angle behind home plate or when the camera follows fly balls into left field. You always want the stadium to look as full as possible on television, including on the broadcast itself and highlight shows featuring the game. And homeruns always make the highlights.

Photo from ballparksofbaseball.com

SouthBMore.com photo

Oriole Park is the seventh largest stadium in Major League Baseball (MLB) with a capacity of 45,971. Most new stadiums have a capacity of less than 42,000. Smaller seating capacity can create a louder and more intimate experience and more sellout crowds on the weekends could lead to more people opting to buy tickets during the week.

I’d like to see the Orioles eliminate the last three sections in the upper bowl and club level in left field. This would be sections 384, 386, 388, 284, 286, and 288. This would still keep some of the signature upper deck roof structure visible in the outfield, open up more skyline views, and make way for some fun ideas I have for the stadium and the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor located right beyond left center field.

This look of a partially-continued upper deck in the outfield and a lower deck that continues is a design in the right field of Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Photo from ballparksofbaseball.com

The Pool Club

With the upper deck and club section now gone in much of left field, I’d love to see the Orioles build a pool club at the top of the lower deck in left field. A rooftop deck with a pretty large pool overlooking Oriole Park, how Baltimore is that? Plus, left field is already the Splash Zone.

We’ve all seen people showing off pictures on their social media feeds of visits to the rooftop pool at Merritt Clubs Canton. How much fun would it be to go to a pool party while watching an Orioles game? How Instagram-able would that be?

It’s not uncommon to have pools overlooking stadiums as it is a feature at Chase Field in Arizona, and at hotels overlooking Truist Park in Atlanta and Busch Stadium. TIAA Bank Field, home of the National Football League’s (NFL) Jacksonville Jaguars, has a pool. It’s also a feature at minor league baseball ballparks around America including Riders Field in Frisco, Texas which has was a lazy river beyond the outfield fence.

On humid summer days, or really any day, I think this would be one of the hottest tickets in town. I’d love to see it sold as tickets bought individually and not necessarily a suite to rent out for a game. While The Pool Club would appeal to most demographics, I could see this as a great way to engage the many young 20-somethings in the area who tend to keep the bar districts busy.

A big theme of this article will be making Oriole Park an attraction, destination, and place to hang out all the time, not just the five hours or so it is open for games 81 days a year. I’d love to see The Pool Club be available for memberships when there aren’t games and for drop-in swimmers who are either tourists or locals.

If you live in South Baltimore and have ever spent three-plus years on the waiting list for the Otterbein Swim Club or have kids who aren’t eligible to go to the pool at Merritt Clubs Fort Avenue, you know there’s a need for more swimming options in South Baltimore.

Imagine the pool parties that could be thrown at this pool on non-game days. Fun to think about, right?

With the closure of places like the Tiki Barge, Sandlot, and South Point in recent years, there is definitely a need for more outdoor bars or venues in Baltimore, in my opinion.

In the winter, this could be transformed into an ice rink looking down on the ballpark.

Approximate view from the pool club

Left field concourse 

New Life for the Hilton

Not that the Orioles prioritize the business operations of the City-owned Hilton, but with new nearly-unobstructed views of Oriole Park after taking out these sections, it could give the Hilton, which loses money every year, the new lease on life it needs.

I’ve always thought Baltimore could use a true resort-style hotel that attracts vacationers to the city like the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center does to National Harbor or the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina does for Cambridge.

View from the Hilton. Section of Oriole Park that would be removed outlined in yellow.

The Hilton has an L-shape for its 14-story and 20-story sections on the north and east section of the property and a four-story section right behind left center field with a really large roof. From my estimation, anything at the third story and higher at the Hilton would have a good view into the playing fields if these sections of the stadium were removed.

This four-story section of the Hilton and its large roof could be completely reimagined to take this hotel to the next level. They could build up this section of the building and have some or all of these things overlooking the stadium: an indoor and outdoor water park (or just a pool), restaurants with outdoor seating, a wedding venue, and/or a large conference/convention room. On top of this new structure they could also have a large new rooftop deck with a pool, mini golf, shuffle board, pickle ball, and tiki bars. Gameday or not, views into one of America’s most famous stadiums would be a bonus to any of those amenities.

Removing these sections of the upper deck would also create a lot more hotel rooms with views into the stadium. Hilton could add terraces to some of these rooms, just like some suites already have on the eastern portion of the building.

I’ve been to party at one of the existing hotel suites with a terrace that looks into Camden Yards. It was really fun and had a great view.

With the Hilton being elevated into a destination hotel in this scenario, they could add additional amenities such as a spa, arcade, and movie theatre to the resort experience. They could also drum up the Orioles connection and experience with an Orioles exhibit or team-themed sports bar in the hotel.

Updated demand for this hotel would also create the need for great restaurants in the building. There is plenty of talented local hospitality companies Hilton could partner with.

With Baltimore City owning this hotel, which is managed by Hilton, bold changes would surely take a request for proposals. Would the Orioles be interested in buying it? Would a high-end hotel brand with a bold vision want to buy it? Would Hilton want to take on this project itself? It would be fun to see some competition.

A Train Engine Display

The B&O Warehouse is built into Oriole Park and has been a part of the Camden Station train station since the 1800s. The site was once a large train depot and it remains a stop for the Light Rail and Camden Line of the MARC train. CSX and Amtrak also tunnel underneath before coming above ground just south of the stadium.

With a clear connection to trains at Oriole Park and Baltimore being the birth place of American railroading with the start of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) in Pigtown, I think a train engine display would be a great addition to the ball park.

There is an odd triangular section just beyond the Right Field foul pole that seems to be the last section of the lower deck to fill up on most days. I would love to see at least part of this section taken out and a B&O engine put in its place. It would create an extension of the standing room only section that is on the fair side of the foul pole.

This engine (or multiple engines, if there is room) would look really cool from the playing field in my opinion. It could blow its horn every time there is an Orioles home run or win, and it would be a feature for fans, especially the kids, to check out not only on game days, but any time they are walking down Eutaw St.

This train would also be a great way to promote the B&O Railroad Museum in Pigtown.

Photo courtesy of B&O Railroad Museum

Bring Eutaw St. to Life 

Eutaw St. should be the Cross Street or Broadway of Downtown. Whether the options on those streets in Federal Hill or Fells Point are your cup of tea or not, you can’t deny they are vibrant hubs of commercial activity. How is this accomplished?

For starters, I’d love to see the Oriole Team Store with prices equivalent to a Dick’s Sporting Goods or Lids and not inflated stadium prices. This store should be a must-stop for any baseball-loving tourist and any city resident looking to improve their gear. While the selection at the store is incredible, it is really expensive.

I went to the West Ham United Stadium Store at London Stadium in London and they had all kinds of affordable items that I loaded up on and now we have a family full of West Ham fans.

The Orioles should work really hard to make the former Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant and current SuperBook Bar & Restaurant into a destination sports bar that is always open with really good food and beer rather than it being just an extension of the current food and beverage vendors at the stadium. Maybe partner with a local brewery who would love a brewpub downtown?

If there’s room, the Orioles should add a second sit-down bar or restaurant in the B&O Warehouse.

Boog’s Barbeque should also be open every day of the summer. Downtown needs a place with Baltimore’s signature pit beef.

Maybe you could add a second food trailer selling wood-fired pizza or have a space for rotating food trucks.

The Oriole Roof Deck bar in center field should also be open every day of the summer. As I mentioned before, Baltimore lost many outdoor bars in recent years and here is one that already exists. While at the bar, you could get food from SuperBook, Boog’s, or the concession stand below. This would be a great way for a tourist to see the ballpark if there is not a game or just be a fun place for locals to hang out and maybe watch an away game on television.

I’d like to see the concession stand below the Roof Deck bar become a fast-casual option open for lunch and dinner most days of the year. We already have pit beef on Eutaw St., so this site in my opinion is the perfect spot to put a carry-out Baltimore seafood restaurant.

Most of Baltimore’s famous places to get a crab cake or other Baltimore specialty are not necessarily at the Inner Harbor or Downtown. Jimmy’s Famous Seafood already offers fast casual with its food truck and stadium concession stands and is already a partner of the Orioles. They would certainly fit the bill.

Just like the Orioles are already doing before Saturday games in the picnic area, they could have live music on Eutaw St. or in the picnic area on non-gamedays.

So to recap, with these proposed changes, what can people do on Eutaw St. when there’s not a game? Get a some well-priced O’s gear, check out a B&O train engine, grab a sandwich or platter from Boog’s, watch games and have a good beer at the sports bar, grab some fast-casual Baltimore seafood, meet friends for drinks at the Roof Deck bar, listen to live music, or hit the new Pool Club.

Sounds like a fun place to be on a random day to me.

Add a Little League Field

The B&O Warehouse in right field is one of the most iconic features of any stadium in baseball. How about a Little League field with that same backdrop? How cool would that be for the kids?

As someone who is involved with the South Baltimore Little League (SBLL), I know it is league with growing participation, that is a beloved part of the South Baltimore community, that is now regularly winning region championships, and that has a need for more fields.

And, of course, anyone could use this field, not just SBLL.

I have a couple different ideas for where this field would go. I’d love for it to be somewhat of a dedication to Memorial Stadium with a replica of the famous facade behind home plate, which was supposed to be saved when it was demolished, but it didn’t come to fruition.

The facade could read “Memorial Stadium – Dedicated by the Mayor and the City Council and the people of Baltimore City in the State of Maryland as a memorial to all who so valiantly fought and served in the World Wars with eternal gratitude to those who made the supreme sacrifice to preserve equality and freedom throughout the world time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”

That script is currently on a plaque on Eutaw Street.

My first idea for where this field could go would be the Oriole Park North Parking Lot. This is located just east of the north side of the B&O Warehouse and south of Camden Station.

I lined up two different orientations below, one with the warehouse in right field and one with the warehouse in left field. With the warehouse in left field, you’d have Camden Station beyond right field. The Baltimore Convention Center could be viewed behind home plate on both orientations.

A field here would be just smaller than the youth fields at SBLL, but you could put up a net behind the outfield fence to protect the buildings and it would be a fun home run park for the kids.

The field could be made of artificial turf so it could be used as a gathering area or beer garden or concert lawn on game days. Or maybe young ball players could lineup to take swings before the O’s game. Some small bleachers or built-in seating could be added around the field, maybe with brick backing like at Memorial Stadium. The concessions to serve this field would already exist with the new activity on Eutaw St.

Oriole Park struggles to have a great physical and pedestrian connection to the Inner Harbor, which is just three blocks east on Conway St. This new field would give the stadium a softer connection to the Inner Harbor and would create some cool scenery for drivers getting on and off of I-395, as well for riders on the Light Rail.

Another spot for a Little League field is Lot A just south of the stadium. Lot A is much larger and leaves more room for the possibility of creating a mini Memorial Stadium. You could position a field with the B&O Warehouse in right field and Oriole Park in left field. You could either position the field backing up against Russell St., closer to Eutaw St., or you could build two fields in Lot A.

Lot A is probably the most likely site for mixed-use development around the stadium. If that is the case, this field could be built into the new buildings or it could just make Orioles Park North Parking Lot a better option to leave more room for development.

Oriole Park North Parking Lot with SBLL Field 1 inserted

Potential view from home plate 

Lot A with Field 1 and Field 2 from SBLL inserted

Lot A with SBLL Field 1 inserted

Potential view from home plate

Winter Village

People absolutely love Christmas lights between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. Baltimore has its own famous attraction in 34th Street in Hampden, and drive-through light displays at Sandy Point State Park and Merriweather Post Pavilion attract massive crowds. The Washington Nationals’s Nationals Park recently began participating in Enchant, “A Christmas Light Maze & Village,” which has come to a growing number of stadiums around America. About Enchant from its website:

Enchant is a spectacular, multi-sensory holiday season experience featuring a stunning, story-driven light maze adventure spread across more than 10 acres of space. Often produced within major league sports stadiums or iconic outdoor public spaces, the Enchant experience includes a one-of-a-kind ice skating trail, a charming holiday marketplace, seasonal food and beverages, special Santa photo-ops, and much more.

I would love to see this come to Oriole Park during the winter. I could see this being a huge attraction that could tie into the other new amenities in the stadium.

Talk about a great winter day in Baltimore—visit Enchant at Oriole Park, head to the Inner Harbor for Christmas Village, drive up to Hampden to see Miracle on 34th Street, and maybe take in a holiday-themed show at one of the city’s indoor venues.

Additional Improvements 

I have no doubt there are a lot of things behind the scenes that need improvements to refresh the stadium and keep it state-of-the art. The suites and club level likely need some upgrades, the concessions may need some upgrades, the team clubhouse could need an upgrade, and there are probably some mechanical issues that need improving, I’d assume.

One thing in particular I noticed upon searching for concessions in the upper deck at a recent game is there is a lack of working televisions to keep an eye on the game while you are out of your seat.

Mixed-Use Development 

Angelos has stated his interest in turning the Camden Yards Sports Complex into a mixed-use destination like The Battery Atlanta around Truist Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves. Angelos toured The Battery Atlanta with Governor Moore in March.

There are opportunities for mixed-use development around the stadium at Lot A and Lots B/C which are closer to M&T Bank Stadium. Any new buildings would be adjacent to the Ridgely’s Delight and Pigtown neighborhoods and could provide amenities and new dining options for both communities.

The former Camden Station, previously home to Sports Legends Museum and Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, also currently sits vacant. The Orioles have pushed to have the opportunity to acquire this building in a new lease with the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Orioles Expiring Lease

The Orioles are currently under a two-year lease at Oriole Park that expires on December 31st. This two-year lease follows the initial 30-year lease expired at the end of 2021.

A new lease agreement will unlock the $600 million in funding that will make this revitalization of the complex possible.

So, if a new lease is agreed upon by the end of the year, that is when we will likely start seeing the team’s ideas for Oriole Park and the Camden Yards Sports Complex soon after.

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About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, father of three, amateur pizza chef, skateboarder, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.