Placemaking at SunTrust Park
As designers of sports facilities, we are constantly evaluating and considering the ever changing culture of sports fandom and the nature in which fans watch and experience sporting events. Socializing and congregating is inherent in our human nature, but the way, places and forums in which we choose to socialize are constantly evolving. Certainly the impact of technology, television deals, aging demographics and more and more people watching HD broadcasts from home are changing the expectations fans have for the buildings we design. Regardless of the sport – be it soccer, football, hockey or baseball –these issues seem to be relevant and ever-present. As we step back and look at the emotional power sport has to bring together a community (my colleague John Shreve covers this in more detail here), I think it’s important to recognize that fans continue to choose to congregate in shared spaces to enjoy a game. They host friends at their homes; they go to bars; they attend the game; they tailgate outside; or they watch at locations that create a “game-like” atmosphere other than the stadium – all to be in proximity to other fans.
Places like Minneapolis’ Target Plaza; LA Live!; and Kansas City’s Power and Light District, a plaza just adjacent to the Sprint Center in downtown that is surrounded by bars and restaurants and displays games on a projector screen, have become popular destinations in their own right. During the World Series, Power & Light became the destination in Kansas City beyond the ballpark, where Royals fans could come together and enjoy the game experience with thousands of their fellow fans. For away games, it became the city’s magnet for fans to watch the game as part of a larger social event. Fans in the mixed-use plaza also became part of the live national broadcast experience as well, as live shots of the plaza were broadcast throughout the game, acting as a barometer for the Royals fan base and passion of Kansas City fans. Furthermore, once the event was over, fans continued to celebrate and socialize throughout the adjacent mixed-use development.
This model has been impactful and effective – but by integrating the design of a mixed-use destination with the design of a new facility, there is an opportunity to capture the excitement of both kinds of experiences in one. SunTrust Park, the Atlanta Braves new ballpark set to open in 2017, will do just that, as the latest renderings show. With a ballpark that is neither suburban or urban, we were able to design something unprecedented – a new breed of ballpark that will be a catalyst for an entirely new development that is focused on baseball, but functions year-round. We are designing a ballpark, but we’re also creating a design language that will shape the larger development, which is being designed by Wakefield Beasley in conjunction with masterplanners Jerde. The goal will be that fans will live, eat, work and yes – play – in and around the ballpark development, 365 days a year. The Braves’ forward thinking approach and vision for the ballpark and surrounding development I believe will change the way we view ballpark design in the future.
Beyond the right field, a sweeping mixed-use plaza has space to project games and to gather crowds who may not have a ticket to watch the Braves inside, but still want to be part of the contagious game-day energy. This will create a shared viewing experience in the development – accounting for how all fans want to watch a game – and allowing unprecedented proximity to the crowd inside. As we designed this concept, we worked closely with the Braves to imagine what it would be like for fans just outside the ballpark to be essentially watching and reacting to the game at the same time as the fans inside, sharing the energy and passion that makes attending a game unique, and continuing the celebration of a win together after the event .
It’s a compelling example of placemaking – an opportunity for the Braves to create an authentic sense of community. Designing in congruence with a larger development has allowed us to meld the ballpark seamlessly with its surroundings and develop an authenticity and a clear design story that responds to fan demographics and the need for a new kind of ballpark experience. SunTrust Park will serve as the centerpiece for the entire destination, creating synergy between the in-game experience and the surrounding development, all the while highlighting the immense impact that sport has on bringing together a community.
The design of SunTrust Park also speaks to larger trends that are shaping the stadium, ballpark and arena experience across the globe. We have found a way to share program within the design – there are components, like restaurants and bars, that are accessible both from inside the stadium and from outside, creating a more integrated ballpark. The surrounding retail, restaurants, residential and office space will have unprecedented views of the ballpark, further blurring the lines.
We recently contributed a concept for the ballpark of the future to USA Today, which was a bit pie-in-the-sky (after all, we didn’t have budget constraints, site constraints or any of the usual variables that impact us during the design process), but it illustrated a concept that I believe has come to play in SunTrust Park. There is a desire for our buildings to be more, do more and reach more people. SunTrust Park speaks to this desire to blur the lines between the ballpark and the outside, so that the ballpark can become a true living room for the community – and that the community can take ownership of the experience in and around it in an authentic way.