Architecture of Entertainment: Oakland A’s Versus Texas Rangers

Proposed Oakland A’s stadium. Source: Bjarke Ingels Group

I was in Silicon Valley last week while plans for the new Oakland A’s ballpark were revealed. Between the numbers and images flying around, I got to thinking about Rangers’ stadium taking shape in Arlington.

I’ll stop right here and say that the last baseball game I attended was a Chicago Cubs’ game (against lord knows who) in the late 1980s (I was a plus-one good friend). I’ve never cared for sports or the foam-fingered, face-painted, booze-sopped civic pride they engender.  So please don’t take this column as some sort of shot at baseball – this is about creating useful architecture.

First, it’s interesting that the in-person audience for professional baseball appears to be shrinking. Ranger’s Stadium is slimming from 48,114 seats to an estimated ~42,000. The Oakland A’s are also proposing a smaller, 34,000-seat stadium – their current digs seat 63,000 and were shared with the departing Oakland Raiders.

One of the reasons the existing Rangers’ Stadium is so large is the era is was built in. Looking at Toronto’s 1989-built stadium at 49,282 seats, Arizona’s 1998-built field with 48,519 seats, and Seattle’s 1999-built stadium with 47,963 seats, it’s easy to see the ’94-built Rangers’ ballpark fitting right in. But the new millennium brought smaller parks with 1999 and 2000 seeing Houston and Milwaukee seating approximately 41,500 in their new stadiums, while 2012’s Miami build eked out 36,742 seats. At 34,000 seats, the proposed A’s stadium will be the smallest in Major League Baseball.

Part of this shrinkage is to address empty stands that don’t look good on TV (where most fans watch) while fewer seats may enable better seats, higher prices (riffraff control), and sky-high prices for grudge-match games. Either way, perhaps America’s pastime, like golf and bowling before it, is becoming more “past time” for younger generations?

Oakland A’s and Bjarke Ingels Group

Eagle-eyes will recall that Denmark-based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) was the second architect featured in my ongoing “Why Can’t Dallas Have Nice Things” series.  His firm continues to be on speed-dial for the most ambitious projects in the world. Having done work for two Google buildings, this isn’t BIG’s first hat-tip in Silicon Valley.

Coincidentally, BIG is also the lead designer of Austin’s planned East Side District where they’ve designed a 1.3 million-square-foot, mixed-use entertainment development. This checkerboard of red solar-generating goodness would house a 40,000-seat soccer/rugby stadium along with a 15,000-seat venue to host Rodeo Austin. Amongst the checkerboard will be various restaurants, retail, and possibly a hotel will be woven together under the checkerboard (surrounded by a disappointingly Texas-sized sea of surface parking).

Anyway, back to baseball stadiums.

The architect’s brief included a desire to hark-back to Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia where the A’s played from 1909 to 1954. You can see from the historic photo above, Connie Mack opened the playing field essentially to the street. On the Oakland waterfront, this kind of opening wasn’t possible due to unpredictable winds off the water, but the design does have the building kneel down on one edge.  Also, the rooftop park takes inspiration from Connie Mack’s rooftop bleacher seats, where like Chicago, neighboring homes build seating on their roofs to watch the game. In BIG’s case the “rooftop bleachers are now part of the rooftop park and adjacent high-rise windows.

Also riffing from the past, the 55-acre site along the Howard Terminal waterfront is envisioned as a complete neighborhood containing residential, entertainment, parks and the ballpark. The great old ballparks of Boston, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia were part of the fabric of the city, not plonked down in the middle of a far-flung field.

Approaching the field, the park rises to encircle the roof.

BIG also understood that typical American stadiums are closed fortifications except when there’s a game on, BIG’s plans are to provide public access at all times. The “necklace” around the top of the stadium is a public park offering blanket seating during a game, but also everyday park access along with spectacular views.

Surrounding the stadium are a series wedge-shaped high-rises of varying height, topping out at 20 stories.  For the hardened baseball fan (or Airbnb landlord), some units will offer windows facing into the park. The ground levels will feature a skirting of entertainment venues and restaurants.

The architect offers a variety of seating options (for every price point – as the saying goes). A line drive may appear to fly into San Francisco Bay between the scoreboard while the ever-present shipping cranes that are part of the Port of Oakland’s past and present (and theorized by some to be inspiration for Star Wars’ AT-AT walkers).

Aside from the interesting architecture of a very purpose-built structure (there’s not a lot mistaking it for what it is), the financing is fascinating. The current home for the A’s is the 111-acre Coliseum that the A’s want to buy from the city for $135 million and repurpose into parkland encompassing the baseball field and concert venue (Oracle Arena), and be ringed by things like a tech hub, shopping, youth sports complex, and affordable housing.

The original Coliseum would be shaved down to form the center point of an expansive park space and playing field for local children. The total cost to Oakland taxpayers?  Zero – no bonds, special sales taxes, nothing. Both the Coliseum and Howard Terminal sites will be privately financed. The City of Oakland would be on the hook for infrastructure only.

Rendering of under-construction Rangers’ Stadium

Rangers’ Stadium

The coming Rangers’ Stadium has little in common with the A’s design – although both were going for their own riff on “classic” ballparks. In the Rangers’ case, it was a riff on a riff being based on the current throwback Rangers Stadium (Globe Life Park). As you can see, the new park will sit next to the AT&T turtle.

It’s a design dominated by what was missed in the 1994 edition – a retractable roof. Unlike BIG’s urban setting, Arlington chose to mimic the Dallas Arts District by putting multiple venues in close proximity with little else to do nearby. This probably explains why, as a non-sports fan, I’ve noshed near stadiums in San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities where the food was good enough to attract diners without a ticket stub.

Also, being Texas, it’s a car-opolis without DART access and rolling acres of parking. AT&T Park forms the western edge of miles of commercial businesses devoid of residential. A come-spend-go neighborhood of uninviting architecture and horrible space-planning.

This design is all about the air-conditioning. The roof heights are all the same to facilitate the roof sliding away in Goldilocks weather – not too hot, not too cold, not raining. It may make for comfortable viewing, but the views themselves are of the inside of an uninteresting box.

Like the BIG design, Rangers’ Stadium is all about throwback. Although, because of the roof requirement, it reminds me more of a basketball arena than a baseball one (with perhaps a smattering of train terminal glass – not in a bad way, I like the light).

Also, like the A’s stadium, this will have plenty of entertainment venues for game-day eating and carousing that I fear will struggle when the team is away and there isn’t a concert planned at the Texas Live! venue.

Of course the City of Arlington’s financing arrangements were well reported before the plan got approval. Essentially the city is paying half through various sales, rental car, and hospitality taxes. And unlike the Oakland A’s who unveiled their plans to buy and transform their old Coliseum site, the latest I’ve read about the existing Rangers’ Stadium is that the parties haven’t found any good solutions yet for what could easily become a white elephant.

I’ve never really looked at stadium architecture before (throw rocks in the comments). But comparing two very different proposals, it’s easy to pick the better project. One is a vibrant urban neighborhood punctuated by a baseball park, while the other is fortress surrounded by parking moats only intermittently brought to life by an event – essentially, performance art for the suburbs.

In the end, Oakland will net two revitalized and vibrant neighborhoods for its city in addition to a spiffy new ballpark. The Metroplex is getting an air-conditioned baseball park next to its former baseball park in the middle of a large, often lifeless piece of Arlington.  With each stadium costing about $1 billion, maybe there should be crying in baseball.


Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.