HKS Works On Planned Ballpark In Japan

New home for Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters would include hot baths

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: November 7, 2018

A rendering gives a nighttime view of the ballpark and surrounding development planned for the city of Sapporo. (Courtesy HKS)

The next generation of ballparks in Japan was unveiled this week. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, one of 12 teams in Japan’s top professional league, released renderings and video for a new 35,000-capacity stadium featuring a retractable roof, natural grass, and hot baths at the top of the upper deck in left field.

HKS, the Dallas architect designing Globe Life Field, the new ballpark for Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers, has teamed with Japanese contractor Obayashi to develop the Fighters’ park. In January, the Rangers signed a multiyear deal with the Fighters that extends to business operations, including the MLB team consulting with the Japanese club on ballpark development.

Populous, the dominant designer of MLB stadiums, was the other finalist in a design competition and had been consulting with the Fighters over the past year on the ballpark and adjoining mixed-use district.

The new facility, projected to cost $530 million, is situated in Kitahiroshima, a suburb of Sapporo on Hokkaido, the largest northern island of Japan. The Fighters are owned by NH Foods, a large food manufacturer that is funding construction and will run the building. Local government is covering the cost of infrastructure upgrades, said John Hutchings, principal-in-charge of both the Fighters and Rangers projects. NH Foods is the equivalent of Hormel Foods in the U.S., Hutchings said.

The Fighters play home games at the Sapporo Dome, a publicly owned facility that opened in 2001. In pursuing a new stadium, the team committed to developing a venue with natural grass to give its fans a more authentic baseball experience compared with playing indoors on artificial turf, he said.

Sapporo sits in a mountain region and the city historically gets 13 feet of snow a year, Hutchings said. As a result, to maintain a natural grass field required a retractable roof with a sharply sloping design. The stadium, which will sit between two ravines, is oriented to the southeast to maximize morning sunlight, he said.

The design includes a massive glass wall in the outfield to promote grass growth. HKS created screening devices to resolve the issue of glare created by the wall during daylight hours.

The ballpark’s amenities include the hot baths, which were requested in the team’s request for proposal during the design competition. They’re part of the culture of Hokkaido, a popular vacation spot. HKS incorporated hot baths in its design that have views to the field but still protect bathers’ privacy, Hutchings said.

The hot baths will also serve as a sponsor activation zone in the park, he said.

The new stadium will include a mix of suites and clubs, but to this point the exact numbers have not been determined. There will be a home plate club, similar to MLB parks.

“There’s only one suite at the Sapporo Dome,” Hutchings said. “The issue in Japan is (most) of the stadiums are owned by municipalities and the teams make little profit from leasing the venues on a per-game basis. The Fighters will own the ballpark, which will result in a much more profitable endeavor for the team.”

Groundbreaking is scheduled for spring 2020 with the opening set for March 2023.

As part of the project, HKS plans to open an office in Tokyo, about an 80-minute flight from Sapporo.

It’s been a while for a new build in Japanese baseball, especially one with dramatic architectural elements shown in the renderings and video for the Fighters’ stadium, Hutchings said. The stadium will be the first new facility since Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium Hiroshima opened in 2009.

Elsewhere, four teams play in venues that opened in the 1990s, two in the 1980s, two in the 1970s and one in the 1950s. Two ballparks date to the 1920s. (The Orix Buffaloes play home games at two stadiums).

HKS officials hope the project leads to more work in Japan’s highest level of baseball.

“The Fighters created some talent with Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani,” both of whom now play in MLB, Hutchings said. “This new ballpark gives them a great tool to recruit premium players.”

You can see a video about the planned ballpark here.

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: November 7, 2018