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BASEBALL TREASURES

The Future Fenway Symposium
By Jeffrey Harris and Randy Divinski

"Places of the heart, even impure ones, are worth the effort. Your home, your neighborhood, your city—you have to stand and defend your piece of ground. Manufactured, mediated experience is ubiquitous. Battling to preserve a special place is not quaint provincialism. It is defiance against the relentless obliteration of memory and community."

—Michael Betzold,
Tiger Stadium Fan Club

The Future Fenway Symposium came to fruition through a collaboration between Save Fenway Park! (SFP!) and the Fenway Community Development Corporation (FCDC). The two groups commissioned urban ballpark expert and professor of architecture Philip Bess to pull together a design team of creativeˇeven "maverick"—architects, urban planners, and ballpark experts from around the country in an attempt to concretely realize the vision of neighborhood/ballpark harmony articulated in Bess's classic book, City Baseball Magic.

The design team was asked to develop (in an intensive, eight-day, twelve-to-sixteen hours per day process open to the public) two proposals for modernizing Fenway Park on its current site. One plan would emphasize preservation and economy, focusing on a lower-cost, minimally- invasive upgrade of the ballpark in a way that most preserves its historic character. The other plan was given the latitude to pursue significant renovation and reconstruction options, especially of the grandstand section (the core of which was built in 1912).

The designers were also asked to develop urban planning strategies that would address neighborhood development and transportation issues. Both ballpark designs were required to contribute to the healthy development of the Fenway neighborhood, as specified in the FCDC's "Urban Village" plan. (The proposed new Red Sox stadium with its accompanying three thousand car parking garage is wholly incompatible with this "mixed use" development strategy).

While Bess coordinated the direction of the Symposium as a whole, each proposal team had a leader of its own. Heading the Fenway Park Grandstand Reconstruction Proposal team was architect Rolando Llanes of The Corradino Group in Miami, Florida (who is also a ballpark design consultant for the Florida Marlins). Chicago-based Howard Decker (founding principal of DLK Architecture), one of the premier historic preservation architects in the country, coordinated development of the Fenway Park Preservation Proposal. Arturo Vasquez (founder and principal of SAS Design in Boston) and Patrick Pinnell (an architect, traffic expert, and Yale architecture professor) oversaw the Urban Design Proposal. (Also involved in the overall process were experts Robert Barrero, Kevin Klinkenberg, John Massengale, and Travis Vaughan.)

In spite of the intensive nature of the grueling, short-term design process, by week's end the team's efforts had yielded some wonderfully simple yet creative ideas for meeting the needs of the Red Sox and their fans while still addressing the concerns of the Fenway neighborhood. What follows is a summary of those findings.

 

The Overall Results
In either ballpark proposal, the Red Sox get more seats, luxury boxes, and club seats than what Fenway Park currently offers. The fans get more comfortable seating, improved circulation inside the park, additional concessions and rest rooms, and other amenities. The neighborhood achieves a vibrant Boylston Street corridor featuring mixed-use development instead of a massive stadium and parking garages. Above all, Fenway Park remains the historic, intimate ballpark that makes it the best place in the world to watch a baseball game.

The proposed options also offer some significant benefits over the current Red Sox stadium proposal. Both renovation alternatives are considerably less expensive than the Red Sox proposal. Neither involves private land takings nor requires public subsidies from the city, and each avoids the countless delays and costs likely to result from lawsuits that may be filed in opposition to the Red Sox proposal. But perhaps the most compelling benefit to result from each of these proposals is best summed up by Philip Bess. "The Red Sox and their architects could pursue either of our approaches immediately, and probably be playing baseball in a renovated Fenway Park well before the first shovel of dirt is turned for their current proposal."

Fenway Park Preservation Proposal
Led by Howard Decker, the Preservation design team offered several alterations that will significantly enhance the ballpark: the installation of wider, more comfortable seats; improved circulation around the grandstand; additional concession space; and an increased roof seating capacity. The design team also proposed eliminating the unsuccessful 600 Club in favor of a new, year-round club behind and above the right field bleachers—on land the team already owns. This new club would be integrated into a proposed Team Annex building, a structure that would substantially enhance the ball club's Fenway operations by adding most of the space needed to house the team's administrative, training, and food-service operations. The building would also include a team-only parking garage for players and staff.

It is expected that all of these improvements could be accomplished while still protecting Fenway Park's most significant historic features—an important concern for those hoping to qualify the ballpark for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. If such a status was to be conferred upon Fenway, the renovation work would presumably become eligible for a substantial federal tax credit, further reducing the overall cost of the project.

Depending on how many aspects of the Preservation proposal were to be implemented, this so-called "minimalist" renovation of Fenway would provide the Red Sox a ballpark with a seating capacity of 35,000–37,500, 5,500 club seats, and seventy-two luxury boxes (compared with the present total of forty-four). Preliminary cost estimates for this proposal range from $165 million to $180 million. Better yet, the implementation of this plan would not be expected to cause a disruption to the baseball season, as the work could be performed in a number of phases over the course of a few off-seasons.

Grandstand Reconstruction Proposal
Rolando Llanes and his design team explored a more comprehensive renovation of Fenway Park. Their solution entailed a reconstruction of the grandstand and the addition of an upper deck, with additional points of entry to the ballpark and increased "back of the house" services. As proposed, a reconstructed ballpark would offer upper deck seats closer to the field than what currently exists at every other Major League Baseball venue—including the present configuration at Fenway Park.

Perhaps the most creative aspect of the Reconstruction proposal is the placement of five hundred seats above the fabled Green Monster in left field—seats that would likely become the most desired tickets in baseball. The reconstructed park would also feature the same Team Annex facility (described above) that is included in the Preservation proposal.

A reconstructed Fenway could seat from 38,200 to 40,000 fans, with at least 4,500 club seats and sixty-seven luxury boxes. Preliminary cost estimates for this option total $266 million. Construction phasing for this option would be a bit more complex, and if a feasible, temporary playing site could not be utilized for the time period needed to accomplish the renovation, the reconstruction work would need to be conducted on-site with a reduced seating capacity until completed.

An unusual but intriguing idea for maintaining a quality fan experience during these years would involve moving home plate to the present right field corner—and playing in this altered configuration for a year or two. The right field grandstand and bleacher seats would then become the "best in the house," and with the Green Monster now in short right field, all sorts of things are possible. Games might become even more exciting as managers and players adapt to the new field dimensions—while fans thrill at the opportunity to have yet another unique experience at a game in Fenway. (Meanwhile, grandstand reconstruction could proceed year-round beyond temporary "left" and "center field" walls.)

Seats with a View
Perhaps the most effective "product" to come out of this phase of the symposium were scale-model sections of the seating decks at Coors Field in Denver and in the design team's Grandstand Reconstruction proposal. Standing side by side, the models clearly illustrate one of the renovation plan's most significant benefits—a far greater number of seats in close proximity to the playing field. This outcome is possible because the Fenway design allows for the placement of the upper deck over the lower deck versus the Coors Field industry-standard deck design (almost certainly similar in scale to the never publicly revealed section of the Red Sox proposal) that puts the upper deck behind the lower deck; it's also possible because the reconstructed-Fenway club seats are in the front part of a single upper deck rather than on a separate level, keeping the overall height of the ballpark lower and the seats closer. At the final presentation, Philip Bess emphasized this point: "We certainly could expand our plans to accommodate the 44,000 seats currently in the Red Sox proposal. However, we feel that those extra seats would not offer a quality fan experience. At a renovated Fenway, virtually every seat will be a great seat."

Urban Design and Transportation Planning Proposals
The team of urban planners led by Arturo Vasquez and Patrick Pinnell addressed various transportation issues including: minimizing vehicular traffic and parking demands by consolidating parking within the study area and co-locating parking resources with the surrounding institutional facilities; improving public transportation capacity at Kenmore and Fenway; providing a new, dedicated rail transit stop at Yawkey Way with a potential lay-by at Ipswich Street; increasing pedestrian connections by opening up Landsdowne Street with potential development areas over the Turnpike; establishing urban design guidelines to promote development of a mixed-use residential character for the district; improving pedestrian circulation along Boylston Street with a tree-lined asymmetrical boulevard and extended sidewalk along the northern edge of the street; and finally, improving the network of public open space north of Boylston Street by introducing a new "public plaza" at the intersection of Ipswich and Landsdowne streets.

Architectural rendering of the third base line cross section of a renovated Fenway Park (with reconstructed grandstand) from the Future Fenway Design Symposium. Features shown (left to right) include a new team store, wider concourse, new upper deck, new seating, and premium seats on the Green Monster.

Architectural rendering of the new Team Annex building (center) at a renovated Fenway Park. To the left of the annex are the preserved outfield bleachers. To the right is a new public plaza, with large-screen TV and statue of Ted Williams. Illustrations by Rolando Llanes.

Conclusion
In just a week's worth of time, we obviously cannot offer a complete design proposal, with every detail completely worked out. Our efforts are better understood as an initial investigation and exploration of alternatives to the clumsy and ill-conceived stadium proposal that the Red Sox have presented to the public, . . . . However, we believe that in only eight days of intense work we have come up with some better alternatives for the Red Sox and their architects, alternatives that are reasonable, achievable, less costly, less disruptive, and that preserve and enhance the great tradition of baseball at Fenway Park.

Philip Bess, coordinator,
Future Fenway symposium

An intensive charrette, like this demonstration project by the Future Fenway symposium design team, shows the immense possibilities available in a cultural gem like Fenway Park. It is hoped that the Red Sox—rather than ignore or attempt to discredit the work of these dedicated architects, planners, and transportation experts—will now begin to examine the findings that the design exercise has produced, and see what can be learned. Perhaps they too will come to recognize the great potential that can be realized by preserving such a wonderful icon—especially when their venerable ballpark is just one of two such places still "living" for millions of baseball fans who swarm into Boston every year. If so, the team could be the real hero when future generations of baseball fans are still able to watch Red Sox games in a two-hundred year-old ballpark. May we all be so lucky.

Fenway Park can live actively on for decades, if the Park's owners have a will to do so. They must make a commitment to the place, the neighborhood and the city, but the building will be more than fine if they do, and huge numbers of millions of dollars, and our collective memory and history, will be saved in the bargain....Save Fenway Park, fix it, change it in right ways, care for it, and it will return your affection tenfold.

Howard Decker,
preservation architect,
Future Fenway symposium

— EFQ

JEFFREY HARRIS is a core member of Save Fenway Park! and a staff person at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. RANDY DIVINSKI is a freelance consultant for nonprofit organizations, and a volunteer analyst for Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies.

© 2000 Jeffrey Harris and Randy Davinski

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