It may only be November, but baseball fever is already on its way back to Sarasota. On Monday, the construction crew at Ed Smith Stadium marked the project’s “topping out”—meaning the frame’s last piece of steel is now in place. The crew, headed by local company W.G. Mills and the national Hunt Construction Group, enjoyed a celebratory barbecue lunch while Janet Marie Smith, vice president of planning and development for the Baltimore Orioles, led an exclusive tour through the stadium.
The project’s been in the news for months, especially after the city was sued over its negotiating process with the Orioles. But after a Florida Supreme Court ruling last week, it looks like everything’s clear—meaning state and local funding can move forward so the $31.2 million project is finished on time.
“On time” means mid-February, just before spring training starts. It’s an aggressive target, and the crews—having already combined for 23,000 hours of labor—are working 12 hours a day, six days a week. But everyone, from the construction companies to the Orioles staff and local government officials, seems confident they can finish on schedule.
Smith designed Camden Yards in Baltimore and played a crucial role in renovating Boston’s Fenway Park, so she understands baseball design trends, but she said it wasn’t about copying other facilities. She paid tribute to local architecture with the stucco exteriors and the arched entryways that lead to a sweeping view of the field from home plate.
Local baseball fans also played a role. “We kept hearing ‘shade, shade, shade,’” says Smith, so the renovations include extended awnings to shield more seats from the sun. Those seats, by the way, are currently being refurbished after coming directly out of Camden Yards—a nice touch that shows just how important baseball tradition is to the design.
An upper-level concourse may be the most significant addition, offering restrooms and concession areas to fans in the higher seats, as well as sizeable standing areas for those tired of sitting. Smith says they’re integrating “a lot of vertical transportation and new ways to move around,” like four new elevators and plenty of wheelchair access, all perfect for wandering the facility without missing the game.
Add in an air-conditioned deli and retail store, plans for an LED scoreboard, relocated bullpens so fans can watch their favorite pitchers warming up, and an overall aesthetic designed with Sarasota in mind, and you can see why everyone is so excited. Smith says part of that excitement comes from the belief that “Sarasota is the baseball capital of Florida,” and she’s convinced that our new stadium will help keep it that way.
Oh, one more thing. For all the Baltimore fans, the answer is yes: Former Oriole Boog Powell will be serving his famous barbecue, a Camden Yards favorite, just behind left field. That’s where you’ll find me, come March: ribs in hand, eyes on the field, celebrating everything that makes spring, baseball and Sarasota such a winning combination.