Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Reds' stadium design whiffs at big chance




BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Don't take me out to this ballgame. The Reds' new stadium is a foul ball.

        Drawings unveiled this week showed that the ballpark turns its back — both literally and figuratively — on Cincinnati.

INFOGRAPHIC
A new Reds home
        Home plate, as has been known for months, faces Kentucky. The latest designs show that the stadium also looks the other way when it comes to recognizing the team's sense of history and place. Nothing in the plans says “Cincinnati” or pays tribute to the oldest team in the big leagues.

        To make matters even worse, indications are this structure will have to be built on the cheap, its plans scaled back, even though it'll cost $280 million. That's a steep price to pay just to settle for less.

Go Reds
        Nothing in the stadium renderings shown Monday spoke to the team's past. Design features recalling Crosley Field, the franchise's most famous ballpark, were only hinted at.

        Even the stadium's facade is a big unknown. No one's saying whether the stadium will be clad in brick like Crosley or concrete and steel like the current bowl on the riverfront. Cost, not style or tradition, will be the determining factor. Architect Michael Hand, vice president of HOK Sport, the park's designer, would say only that the facade will be “durable.” Glad to see he's not going with papier-mache.

        John Allen, the Reds' chief operating officer, did not use the unveiling to show off elements linking the new park to the Reds' past. Cost considerations came into play here, too.

        “It wouldn't be fair,” he told me, “to talk about design features and show drawings before we go through the pricing process and complete the value engineering.”

        Value engineering is an architect's term. It's used as a euphemism for cutting costs to get the job done.

        John Allen added that he didn't want to promise what the team can't afford. If the features fit into the team's budget, they will be built.

        If those references to the past cost too much, it looks like we can forget about the connecting links that keep generations of Reds fans coming to the ballpark, to buy tickets as well as some peanuts and Cracker Jack. The heck with tradition. Just slap up a stadium and they will come.

        This stadium was to be a landmark to baseball, to the Reds, to Cincinnati. Now, it's in the process of becoming a monument to missed opportunity, a blown chance to do it right, to build a field of dreams.

Do better
        The stadium's style, such as it is, appears stripped down, lackluster. Call it generic modern, devoid of character. It's not retro. It's not even deco. It's a zero.

        John Allen calls it “something that can't be copied anywhere else.” He's right. No one else would want to copy this drab layout.

        The design is so unoriginal it's even incorporating old equipment into the new structure. Cinergy Field's video screen, Jumbotron Jr., will make the move into the new park. Now there's a link with the past, a big used appliance.

        Michael Hand claimed the stadium has unique architectural features. One is a “notch” in the upper deck, to allow pedestrians on Sycamore Street to look through the stadium and see the river. I doubt tourists will flock to Cincinnati to gander at that marvel.

        Then there's the architectural treatment that jams the stadium's outfield wall into the plaza of the First Star Center. According to the architect, that's supposed to supply the stadium complex and the city with a “sense of connection.”

        The only sense of connection the city will make with this stadium is if the architects go back to the drawing board. They need to come up with a Cincinnati-style design that embraces the city, that speaks to the Reds' history as the hometown team.

        If the architects cannot make this connection with the Reds and the city where professional baseball was born, they might as well build the ballpark's facade out of papier-mache. That flimsy stuff will be easier to tear down in 30 years when the town realizes its mistake and starts building another new stadium. Maybe then, we'll get it right.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

Drawings just tantalize Reds fans
Monday story: Ballpark leaves retro behind



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