Rendering of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Fla.
Forget the model of a parking lot connected to a spring training baseball stadium with team facilities tucked away from the fans. That all changes with the Feb. 28 opening of the $144-million, 160-acre The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla., the new spring home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.
“We have learned a lot about how to best choreograph the highest and best training experience for the teams and players, as well as the fans,” said Fred Ortiz, lead designer on the project for HKS. “We placed the components in a smart way to create highly engaging and memorable experiences for the fans.”
Part of the design involves moving the main stadium into the center of the largest spring training site in Major League Baseball and then positioning team facilities to the north and south of that. Instead of moving parking away from those facilities, Ortiz put the parking near the team areas so fans move through the training facilities to “engage the players as quickly as possible.”
“We tried to bring the really fun stuff to the forefront and celebrate the game right at the center,” he said.
A former vacant land full of trash that required soil remediation, HKS created a gradual ascension into the site. The rise through the site gives fans a 14-foot-tall vantage at concourse level once they reach the 7,800-capacity stadium, allowing fans to walk down into their seats.
The 12 practice fields, six for each team—the Astros have one with the exact dimensions of Minute Maid Park in Houston and the Nationals have two that mirror the layout of Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.—sit to the east and west and can easily partition off from the rest of the site for community use at this publicly-owned facility.
All through the site, from the agility fields, four-lane resistance pool outside the Nationals’ clubhouse, playground, community plaza, city park and 1.75-mile walking path, Ortiz created berms as bridges, “allowing us to create great vantage points or framing views to the next platform.” The style created mini-destinations throughout the complex, all the time connecting fans to the players.
“There is more to spring training than just the game, there is a lot more we want to celebrate,” said Mo Stein, principal in charge for HKS. “There are all sorts of opportunities to experience the game, whether from your seat, the concourse, a berm or watching practice fields. The minute you park your car, you are in baseball and have a baseball experience no matter where you are and how you do it.”
Each team approached its space differently, putting specific team culture on display, such as in how they laid out the clubhouse and amenities. For example, the Astros have one giant weight room, while they split the batting tunnels between major and minor league players and the Nationals shared batting and agility, but split into two weight rooms and dining areas.
“When it comes time to deliver how you do your work, that workplace design is as important in baseball as it is in corporate offices,” Stein said.
The stadium itself features 6,440 fixed seats in the bowl, an outfield berm ideal for 1,000 and room for another 300 fans on two party decks and in the party suites. Mix in some box seats and Stein said the stadium offers a variety of experiences.
In terms of creating revenue on site, HKS approached it twofold, both for the teams and the facility owners. Team kiosks supplement a large team store and concessions feature a variety of foods. “There are a lot of sales opportunities to connect with revenue beyond tickets,” Stein said. “I think one of the real opportunities is this is not just a baseball place.”
Stein said the design of the plaza makes it perfect for everything from concerts to arts and craft events, to even car shows. With ample parking, concessions that can support either the plaza area or the ballfields and plenty of restrooms, the design of the complex serves spring training baseball, tournaments or anything else the city and county can imagine to put on site.
The site includes a large plaza designed for public events with concessions that can open year-round. “It all works for an event inside the bowl or an event outside the bowl,” he said. “It is not just revenue for 35 days a year, but the potential for 12 months.”
By merging fan engagement into the design from the parking lot on in, MLB’s newest—and largest—spring training facility offers a fresh perspective on complex design.