Friday, April 25, 2008

Dodger Stadium's 'Next 50' Plan: The Militant Weighs In

As any True Blue fan may or may not have heard by now, Dodger owner Frank McCourt on Thursday outlined a plan to renovate The Stadium with numerous cosmetic improvements to the surrounding lot by the 2012 season, and a commitment to keep the Dodgers there for the next 50 years (and Dodger games are what an 80-something Militant looks forward to doing in the 2050s).

The plan includes more greenery around The Stadium (they already added some to the bullpens this year), environmentally-friendly design, a "grand entryway" towards center field, two large structures behind the Pavilions featuring shops, restaurants and a museum, constructed perimeter plazas and vistas of Downtown and Hollywood and underground parking structures.

So basically these improvements give it all the trappings of a modern, HOK-designed new stadium with the dark green seats that every other city seems to have built, without messing too much with The Stadium.

Oh yeah, and no clear plan to bring transit in.

But let's break it down for a bit:

Shawin' Green: The 2000 additional trees planned as a "Green Necklace" for The Stadium is greatly needed for the entire Chavez Ravine area, as the large expanse of asphalt parking lot creates a micro-climate some 10 or so degrees higher than surrounding areas - a definite urban heat island that, in the heat of summer, impacts the surrounding Elysian and Echo Park areas, and perhaps even has a measurable effect on the trajectory of a hit baseball. But no tree species have been specified as of yet, so word is still out as to the water consumption of this new greenery.

Eco-Park: According to the plan, this means, "sustainable design practices like recycling, conservation, energy efficiency and the use of quality, durable products." The plan also calls for The Stadium to achieve a LEED Silver Certification rating. Sounds good, only time will tell how all this gets implemented.

Look At Me, I Can Be Centerfield: This "main entrance" (pictured left) concept was unexpected, though a neato idea for using that dead storage space behind the P.A. speaker structure. Besides, where is the main entrance to The Stadium, really? The front office entrance is in left field club level, while the main ticket office is behind Top Deck.

Pavilions Place: Perhaps the most significant structural change to The Stadium is the construction of mall-like structures behind the Pavilions. Not only do they provide a place for Dodger fans to hang out before and after the games (and possibly, as the plan boasts, also during the off-season), but perhaps in time Dodger fans will get rid of the "Leaving the game by the 7th inning" stigma, which is a phenomena that happens in nearly all baseball stadia, but is painfully evident in Dodger Stadium as its the only MLB ballpark that has a clear view of the parking lot. These new structures will cover the video of the parking lot while still preserving the view of Elysian Park and the San Gabriel Mountains. And as for the Pavilions themselves, the first visible change in the renovation plan will happen as early as the 2009 season, as the outfield stands will be crowned with brand-new HD-quality scoreboards.

View From A Lot: The Stadium's parking lot is admittedly one of the best places in town to ogle the Downtown skyline, so finally they are institutionalizing this vista by constructing plazas, balconies and terraces to take in the view. There are also structural changes to the direct perimeter of The Stadium to grant people a view of the field from just outside the walls, akin to the outfield park area behind San Diego's Kittly Litter Field.

So what does this all mean, and where's the money coming from?

For nearly the past half-century, The Stadium was just a sports venue rising from a field of asphalt, sitting atop a knoll overlooking the city. Ever since Oriole Park at Camden Yards triggered an era of new baseball urbanism, isolated stadiums fell out of favor and the yearning was for a more integrated destination that would feed off of, as well as support the surrounding neighborhoods.

Our Stadium at the Ravine presented a unique problem: It is an isolated structure, with a topographical hindrance that keeps it an auto-centric destination by which fixed transit is relatively unfeasible. Yet its relative isolation is also its greatest strength, namely the awe-inspiring views of both the manmade (Downtown) and the natural (the mountains).

It's a given that ticket and parking prices will rise accordingly to fund this ambitious half-a-billion-dollar undertaking. But would profits from the next four seasons really cover all that? Consider this equation: Housing Shortage + Big Expanse of Private Land Owned By Someone With A Real Estate Development Background = $$. Underground parking structures will supplant the existing parking arrangement, leaving lots of spare room for - yes - possible development. Whether McCourt plants to develop the spare land himself or sell it to other developers remains to be seen.

But not that it's necessarily a bad thing -- which brings us to the transit issue. Seeing that he cannot move The Stadium to the city, it's likely he'll bring the city to The Stadium. In time, people will live (what comes around, goes around in Chavez Ravine, eh?) and work by the Stadium, which will eventually justify building a fixed-guideway transit project (read: Metro Rail) to serve The Stadium, as it will likely no longer be an April-though-October isolated sports venue, but a living part of the City.

If the Militant's predictions ring true, then, play ball!


CM Lee said...

I completely agree with you. I do hope all the changes are environmentally conscious. The stadium has actually already undergone two different phases of renovation under the McCourts and there will be a third after this season that includes the HD scoreboards and renovating the upper level bathroom and concession stands to match the new ones on the lower level. These changes with the building of a new spring training facility in Arizona, the McCourt's have already spent over $250 million. Speaking of the new spring training facility, Frank McCourt alluded to you prediction. He spoke about taking the dodgertown street signs with him to LA and creating a new dodgertown on chavez ravine.
One last thing to consider. The McCourts are secretly trying to buy an NFL team. It is my prediction that in the next year or two the McCourts will announce the purchase of an NFL team that will coincide with the building of a football stadium on the ravine. The new stadium will include more shops and stores in the area and yet another grand entrance street, laying down the framework to create the real estate development you predict and making a rail line or street car to the ravine more than likely, but a real necessity.

Anonymous said...

And how will it get financed? Given his financial problems, this needs to be very clear. Also, transportation such as bus or better yet rail needs to be addressed as well.