Anyone who has toured Oriole Park at Camden Yards or heard of its history knows the ballpark is as iconic nationwide as Fort McHenry and spawned an entire era of ballpark revitalization in baseball. But what some may not know is that this brick behemoth almost had a different address.
As part of the 20th anniversary celebration of Camden Yards, seven business and sports advocates took part in a panel discussion on August 23, discussing the economic benefit Oriole Park at Camden Yards has had on the city. And what some remembered was back in the 1980s when then-mayor William Donald Schaefer fought tooth and nail to use the stadium as part of the Harbor draw.
Ron Kreitner, executive director of WestSide Renaissance, recalls very vividly Schaefer pushing for the ballpark’s construction in the city as opposed to the county and then fretting on Opening Day about its success.
Schaefer needn’t have worried. Not only has Camden Yards brought great identity and community spirit to the city, but it has also revitalized neighborhoods, attracted and retained businesses, and breathed life into the downtown/Inner Harbor area. And as Don Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said, “what wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have Oriole Park at Camden Yards?”
At the time, the idea of putting the ballpark downtown was “swimming against the tide,” but the suburban alternatives would ultimately have had less access to amenities, exiting times would have been twice as long and infrastructure changes would have been costly.
“It’s easier to understand the benefits when you look at the alternatives,” Kreitner said. “It took a long time for people to recognize and accept the benefits of the ballpark being in the city.”
Fry, who considers OPCY one of the defining projects of the last 50 years, said, from a business perspective, the O’s create vibrancy in the city that businesses can get invested in. He compared game days to a “mini city festival,” which is obvious when ardent fans are roaming the streets of Baltimore before and after games.
Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, noted that summer occupancy in hotels is 20 percent higher with baseball in town. On average, rooms are filled to 71 percent occupancy, which also increases — along with the rates — when the Red Sox and Yankees are in town. Boston brings the number up to 82-86 while New York fans fill occupancy to almost 90 percent.
During a potential playoff run, those numbers could go even higher as civic pride builds and continues the ongoing momentum the city is feeling on the heels of a (knock on wood) revitalizing season.
“The excitement is well beyond the footprint of Camden Yards” going into a potential playoff, Doug Duennes, executive vice president of the Orioles business operations said. Noonan added that a playoff run would only serve to reaffirm the O’s as one of the top five recognizable brands in Baltimore.
Director of sports marketing for the state of Maryland, Terry Hasseltine, said Camden Yards starts the dialogue when he is in talks with people to bring big events to the city.
“Camden Yards is a natural starting point,” he said. “It’s beautiful, iconic, a place to witness great baseball, logistically sound, entertaining and a great fan experience. An easy sell.”