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Huntington Park


Who says there's nothing new under the sun?

Clippers' new home is our 2009 Ballpark of the Year

So there I was exploring one-day-old Huntington Park with Scott Ralston and Chris King of 360 Architecture, designers of the stadium. My mind was racing at seeing things I'd never seen in a ballpark before when I said, "You know, after all of the ballparks that have been designed and built ..." Before I could complete my thought, Scott finished my sentence with " ... you'd think there'd be no new ideas, right?"

Ballpark Stats

Winner of the 2009 BASEBALLPARKS.COM Ballpark of the Year  Read the press announcement here
Team: The Columbus Clippers of the Triple-A International League
First game: April 18, 2009, a 3-1 win by Toledo over the Clippers
Capacity: 10,100, of which 8,800 are fixed seats
Architect: 360 Architecture
Construction: Turner
Price:  $42 million for the actual construction
Home dugout: First base side
Field points: Southeast
Playing surface: Kentucky bluegrass grown at Tuckahoe Turf Farms in NJ
Betcha didn't know: The park sits on the edge of the Arena District, which for 150 years was the site of the Ohio State Penitentiary.

Exactly. You'd think that every design innovation that could be worked into a baseball stadium had already been done. Visit Columbus, Ohio's new Huntington Park, and you'll learn that there are new things under the sun. And the ideas aren't just different. They are ideas that work beautifully.

And seeing different design approaches is what makes visiting new ballparks fun. After all of the duplication of the same basic layout for Minor League parks in the past 15 years, it's a pleasure to see new ideas -- and Huntington Park has more than its fair share. All the better for baseball fans in Ohio.

And that's why this unique stadium has been named our BASEBALLPARKS.COM Ballpark of the Year.

I attended the second game at the park, as the parade and grand-opening had occurred the day before. The fans of Columbus were still buzzing, though, about this incredible facility that had landed near their downtown. They were making their way up to Roosters restaurant and, believe it or not, the bleachers on the roof level of the separate building that overlooks left field. They were taking pictures from the Home Run Porch that overlooks right field. They were sampling the wonderful food from local restaurants like City Barbeque and Donatos Pizza.

And almost all of them were repeating the oft-said phrase at a new park: "There's not a bad seat in the house."

One of the amazing aspects of this park is how little tax money was spent on it. "This is a private-sector development, not one done by the city," Ralston said. "Except for some state money from their Cultural Arts Facility funds, zero public funds were spent."

Where did the money come from? Private firms, who then have the right to advertise within the park. Ralston told me that the biggest contributor was Huntington Bank at $12 million. Of course, they also received the naming rights on the park for this. Nationwide and the Columbus Dispatch had the next highest contributions at $5 million apiece.

So what makes this facility so incredible and so innovative? Its location? Its stunning exterior? The main seating bowl? The concession stands -- both in how they're designed and what they serve? The thoughtful extra touches?

Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

So let's examine the park's interesting setting in Columbus' Arena District, its fabulous exterior (some of the best parts of which most fans will never see), the innovative interior design and the incredible experience of attending a Clippers game. You'll see why it won our 10th annual Ballpark of the Year award, even though much more expensive parks like Yankee Stadium and Citi Field were also in the running.


The
setting

Just as the Clippers' old park, Cooper Stadium, had aged less than gracefully, its neighborhood southwest of downtown hadn't kept up with Columbus' rise as a cosmopolitan city. When sentiment grew for a brand-new stadium, most local fans didn't complain when other areas of the city were mentioned as possible sites. And in the end, the absolute perfect spot was located.

In the late '90s , the city had established a 75-acre "Arena District" just to the northwest of the downtown financial district and less than a mile from the Ohio State Capitol. It was the city's attempt to draw a big-league sports franchise, as well as make use of the land on which a decaying, abandoned penitentiary stood. The city worked with Nationwide Realty Investors, an arm of the insurance giant headquartered in Ohio's capital city, on a big-time facility, which was designed by Heinlein Schrock Stearns, which today is known as 360 Architecture. Nationwide Arena opened in 2000 and is the home to a big-league tenant, the NHL's Blue Jackets. Nationwide was also behind the development surrounding the arena, including beautiful condos, over a dozen restaurants, a grassy plaza, a theater, an athletic club (below left, with the new ballpark shown in the distance), a concert pavilion and lots of Class A office space.

One particularly attractive facet of the area is that the historic arch at the city's Union Station was moved to the Arena District. The shot above on the right shows the back of the arch, with Nationwide Arena beyond.

But a fairly unattractive parcel of land -- a block from this arch -- existed across Neil Avenue from the arena's parking lots (below left, in 2007). Today, that block is the site of Huntington Park. The shot on the right below shows the finished park with Nationwide Arena in the background.

So the positives to the site of the park are these: a sense of history (for 150 years, this was the neighborhood of the state pen); plenty of parking by the arena and a nearby parking garage; easy access to highways and, very importantly, lots of nightlife nearby. The only downside is that the gorgeous exterior of the park behind home plate won't be seen by many fans. More on that below.


The
exterior

So what about the exterior of Huntington Park? It's fabulous, and has several aspects that are fairly novel.

Let's make a 360-degree trip around the outside of the beautiful brick ballpark.

The entryway directly behind home plate is beautiful. It has a classic, almost Ebbets Field look (above left). There's only one problem: most Clipper fans will never see it.

That's because, in a way, the ballpark is built backwards. The ticket windows and main entry plaza are in center field. Almost all of the parking is across Neil Avenue from the outfield of the park, or a block down on Neil in a parking garage. There is a small lot near the home-plate entry, but it is for media, staff and some season-ticket holders. That means that most fans will never enter the park through these gates, and won't see how beautiful the infield side of the park is.

That's OK, because the rest of the exterior is special, too. And don't misunderstand me: I don't think the park should have been designed with the home-plate side nearer the parking. The way it was done was clearly the logical way, because of the angle of the setting sun, plus the view from within the park shows the skyline of downtown Columbus. And the entry plaza in center field is quite nicely done. It's just unusual -- but not without precedent (Atlanta, Indianapolis, Lehigh Valley) -- that the main entryway isn't somewhere in the infield.

As you travel down the third-base side of the exterior from the home-plate entry, you notice how attractive the brick columns are (above right). It's also a nice look when you are inside the park, walking down that concourse.

While there are gates near the left-field foul pole, it's the ones in center field (both shots above) that will be used the most often. This is where the ticket windows are, and a lovely, raised entry plaza, colorful with blooming dogwoods. You're even greeted by a life-size statue of Harold Cooper, namesake of the team's former park. The plaque dubs him the "Patriarch of Columbus Baseball."

The right-field side of the exterior (above left) has some fascinating design elements. Not only does the back side of the scoreboard carry a billboard-size welcome to the park, the right-field fence is only a few feet away from Nationwide Boulevard. The designers took advantage of this to create five "windows" through which fans without tickets can peer into the game, a la AT&T Park in San Francisco.

While the first-base exterior is less remarkable than the other three sides of the square-ish structure, it still offers the brick columns of the third-base side, as well as a small parking lot and team offices.

All in all, one of the nicest ballpark exteriors I've seen in awhile.


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