Behind The A's Design Decision

Teaming of Bjarke Ingels, Gensler an effort to break the mold for ballparks

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: August 28, 2018

The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum site, one of two under consideration for the A's new home, could result in Oracle Arena (top) becoming a concert-only facility after the Golden State Warriors leave for Chase Center. (Courtesy Oakland A's)

Bjarke Ingels Group and Gensler, the two firms hired by the Oakland A’s to design their new ballpark, present a departure from past MLB stadium architects. The team selected them to help break the mold for baseball venues, A’s President Dave Kaval said.

The announcement came last week as the A’s work with public officials to determine between two candidates for a final site. One site is Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the team’s current home. The other is Howard Terminal on the edge of downtown Oakland, near the city’s waterfront.

The hiring of BIG and Gensler does not sever the relationship between the A’s and HOK, specifically Brad Schrock, a principal with the firm and a veteran sports architect. Schrock has been working on a ballpark project for the A’s over the past 15 years, first with 360 Architecture and later HOK. He remains involved as a design consultant for the privately-financed facility, team officials said.

Both Gensler and BIG, a Danish architect, have never developed an MLB stadium, although Gensler designed upgrades to HoHoKam Park, the A’s spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz. In addition, Gensler’s Jonathan Emmett helped design Miller Park in Milwaukee and Safeco Field in Seattle when he was with NBBJ.

BIG’s experience designing waterfront developments on a global scale in New York, Sweden and Denmark and its work in the Bay Area, plus Gensler’s impressive design of Major League Soccer facility Banc of California Stadium, tilted the scales in their favor, Kaval said.

“It’s a good pairing,” Kaval said. “We’re intent on developing a truly game-changing ballpark. There have been so many derivations of Camden Yards, we feel it’s time for a new direction.”

As the process unfolds, the two architects are teaming up to design separate ballparks for each site. The A’s hope to reach a decision on the site by the end of this year and anticipate opening a new ballpark in 2023. For both sites, the A’s are planning the venue as part of a larger mixed-use development, Kaval said.

Emmett said it’s unusual to design two facilities at the same time for a team, but he thinks it’s the right approach to create a seamless integration with the overall development of a ballpark district. The sites are vastly different in terms of scale and what’s already in place.

The coliseum site, off a major freeway, covers the 51-year-old stadium the A’s share with the Oakland Raiders and Oracle Arena, both of which are surrounded by 10,000 parking spaces. Emmitt said the layout presents an opportunity to master-plan a comprehensive district similar to The Battery Atlanta, a 60-acre development next to SunTrust Park, which opened in 2017 for the Atlanta Braves. The Braves filled the role of developer for The Battery, which involves a mix of retail stores, bars and restaurants, office space and apartments, plus a 4,000-capacity concert venue.

In Oakland, the A’s have offered to buy the coliseum site for $137 million as part of their negotiations with the city and the county. The fate of Oracle Arena will be decided through a series of public meetings, Kaval said, but he feels it could play a key role in the overall development as a concert-only facility after the Golden State Warriors move to Chase Center in 2019, their new arena in San Francisco. It has worked in Los Angeles, where the Madison Square Garden Co.-owned Forum books mostly concerts without a sports tenant, he said.

AEG Facilities runs both buildings in Oakland.

Howard Terminal, by comparison, has constraints by virtue of its location. It’s situated along the Oakland Inner Harbor’s shipyards, rail lines and industrial warehouses. There have been pockets of redevelopment near the site, and a new ballpark tied to mixed use could serve as a catalyst for further development, Emmett said.

Regardless of the site, the ballpark will feature new ways to experience an MLB game, Emmett said. The A’s have been testing seating products and social gathering spaces at the coliseum as part of finding a model that works for the new park. The Treehouse, for example, a new general admission space in left field, has been a big hit for the 3,500 fans that have access to a large outdoor terrace, an indoor bar with pingpong, pool and foosball tables and Spectra’s barbecue stand. The team hires a DJ for Friday night home games, and NBC Sports California hosts its pregame and postgame shows at the Treehouse.

“It’s become the most popular place in Oakland,” Kaval said. “It’s such a cool vibe. We can do so much more of this stuff with a new building.”

The A’s are looking outside of baseball for inspiration as well. Kaval served as president of the San Jose Earthquakes and was part of developing the team’s Avaya Stadium, which opened in 2015. He points to Banc of California Stadium, which opened as the home of Los Angeles FC earlier this year, as a model for creating the right mix of premium seats and outdoor lounges.

“It’s the best I’ve seen and it fits the weather pattern in L.A., which is a strong selling point,” Kaval said.

Banc of California Stadium’s intimacy also resonated with the A’s and their plan for a 34,000-seat park, Emmett said.

“One of the first things (we talked about) is this notion of looking at models outside of MLB for influence, both in terms of the fan base and the buildings, and that’s a good example of the fresh thinking and perspective that the A’s have,” he said.

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: August 28, 2018