January 31, 2024 - From the January, 2023 issue

The Dodgers’ Janet Marie Smith on the Future of Stadium Planning

In this interview with Janet Marie Smith, EVP of Planning and Development for the Dodgers, Janet Marie offers urban planning context for the evolution of Dodger Stadium over the past 11 years guided by Stan Kasten’s original challenge to her: to create a place where all 56,000 fans may enjoy a pregame celebration, linger, find food, and have kids run around. Smith also discusses her U.S. & global stadium projects, comparing insightful differences in planning British football venues with U.S.-based work, emphasizing the unique aspects of baseball's casual cadence. Looking towards the future of stadium planning, Smith also introduces her new development firm - the Canopy Team, promising a continued focus on integrating sports venues into urban development, including an emphasis on flexibility of developments and multiple uses beyond sporting events.

Janet Marie Smith

“It’s interesting that Camden Yards which opened in 1992 began with a goal to integrate the ballpark into Baltimore’s urban fabric, and in the three decades since then, that integrated urban planning approach has only grown in acceptance with teams now acting as developer of the surrounding areas.” - Janet Marie Smith

TPR: Janet, by all accounts –fans, sports media, media executives, and design critics– you have accomplished the mission Stan Kasten originally gave you. Now, with the pandemic largely behind us and a new Dodger Stadium Centerfield Plaza firmly established as the New Front Door, the Dodgers have announced over the off season three star acquisitions of international interest. How will growing fan support for the Dodgers impact your future work at the stadium?

Janet Marie Smith: The work that’s been completed over the last 11 years under Stan Kasten's leadership, as President and CEO, has prepared us for this larger international stage. Our focus remains on creating more spaces for fans, and better facilities for players, always with a design nod to mid-century modern 1962 Dodger Stadium and its beautiful parklike backdrop. Our continued use of multiple languages in signage and the way we present ourselves are meant to make certain that players and fans from a broad cross-section of life feel like this is their baseball home.

Buildings never stay static. There are only a handful of uniformed personnel that even remember the huge transformation of the Dodgers Clubhouse in 2013 when we added a full floor under the field level seats to double the square footage of the player areas.   We compare ourselves to the rest of the major leagues, and work to keep up with the trends in baseball, performance, and art. We've got a player performance facility under construction in Camelback Ranch, our spring training home that will be ready in February, so there’s no doubt we’re learning from that venue’s facilities and identifying what we want to bring back to Los Angeles for training purposes.
With evidence of growing international fan support for the Dodgers, it's unlikely many home fans, who traditionally come to Dodgers Stadium, have ever experienced baseball in Japan- where fans demonstrably demonstrate for their teams. When you reference performance, are the Dodgers prepared for the level of international fan support that's likely to express itself at home games this coming season?

Well, we hope so. I mean, it's not our first player from Japan and our fans have enjoyed watching Ohtani when he was with the Angels.   But this is special and as an organization, and as a venue, we are excited and ready for the 2024 season.  

Expanding on your three decades of professional experience planning baseball parks, you've recently gone global with projects like Stamford Bridge for English Premier League's Chelsea Football Club Stadium. How, if at all, is this British football venue and planning for a renovated facility different from your US-based work?

Having worked with Todd Boehly, a Dodger investor, on his Premier League, Chelsea Football Club, I appreciate some of the flexibility we have both in baseball and the United States. Our buildings are not only beloved but how easy they are for fans to maneuver through.   There are so many things that are different about the way fans move around the ballpark. Baseball has a much more casual cadence to it where fans are encouraged to enjoy a variety of different places within the stadium. Whereas in London, fans are required fans to stay in their section.   There's no alcohol permitted in view of the pitch so the casual vibe of food and beverage is very different between the two places.

Elaborate more on designing for fan experience in the US and North America. In past interviews, you've addressed the legacy of Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards and  the impact of the pandemic on stadium planning. You have also spoken about the future of urban ballparks like Petco Park in San Diego and Polar Park in Worcester as mixed-use developments. Looking towards the future of your projects related to baseball and stadium planning, what do you see as the next iteration of sports venue planning?

If I had a crystal ball, I could tell you!! It’s interesting that Camden Yards which opened in 1992 began with a goal to integrate the ballpark into Baltimore’s urban fabric, and in the three decades since then, that integrated urban planning approach has only grown in acceptance.

Perhaps the biggest bonus of it is that one used to hope that sports would encourage development in urban communities; but now, we see teams making that a part of their self-imposed mandate. It's exciting to see how projects come together and what it means for not just sports, but for cities as a whole. I feel like there's also a dynamic in urban growth that's changing. Maybe it was already changing, but the pandemic just accelerated it in terms of remote work. We have to think about what that could mean for the mixed-use city neighborhoods. In the past a neighborhood was defined by residential, office and retail complemented and organized around public spaces and entertainment zones. Each of those were developed in silos but now, our collaborations have evolved and spaces are playing multiple roles.  These new work habits haven’t changed the amount of travel people are doing but it has changed our work habits and given less distinction between work and residential spaces. I think this is a very interesting phenomena beyond sports.

One of the things that we're often challenged to do is to think about building usage beyond housing the sport. It's always been something that we thought of as important. If you occupy space in the city, you shouldn't be shutting your doors. You should always be doing something that contributes to the vitality of life and the urban community. Teams are beginning to not look to the public sector for funding, but at their own capacities. They’re asking, how do we pay for this? Some of those initiatives are also obviously revenue-producing. There’s just an excitement about cities and I don't think any of us have lost our lust for being together.

Elaborate on this envelope planning concept. How does a sports venue best interface with the community around it?

Well, once upon a time, a stadium was defined as a playing field, seating and the necessary elements to support players and fans; clubhouses, restrooms, concession stands, scoreboards, etc. Through the popularity of premium seating, suites, and upscale club levels became more required programming of these buildings. This also made them more likely to be available year-round.

One of the things that we did as far back as 1992 with Camden Yards’ opening was to say, look, if we're going to be in an urban community, how can we host other events? Now, we find that such is ubiquitous in sports. Venues offer a place to go,for a bar mitzvah, wedding, or corporate outing. It could be Microsoft coming in to do a huge convention for thousands of people, or it could be something much more modest such as renting the boardroom for a dinner. The point is, these buildings have become hospitality centers in our cities, and that's a good thing. We're also always trying to think of alternative uses and transformations, so I've been interested in some recent reports.

For instance, in Indianapolis, there is a beautiful historic ballpark that was built in 1931 and it's recently been converted into housing. It’s fantastic to see how buildings are elastic enough to contribute to the city, and there's an afterlife for whatever reason even when they're no longer home to the sport itself.

Our work has always been based on a premise that sports are part of the city fabric, that developments should be unique and with multi-purpose buildings, even as they might host only one sport. We’ve been around long enough to remember the era of the multipurpose facilities where baseball and football were sharing the stadium, and no one wants to go back to those days. There is certainly something nice about the building itself being able to be ‘alive’ year round - as we see in many cities today.

There is also a greater emphasis on integrating sports and design and the city.   Recently, we’ve been a part of renovations to PNC Park in Pittsburgh where the Pirates have authored some gentle changes to their ballpark so that fans can sit on the Riverwalk in casual spaces with plentiful, open views to the game and the riverfront and city beyond.   Stories of the Pirates and other Pittsburgh teams, most notably the Negro League Grays and Crawfords, are told through newly added artistic depictions of baseballs, retired numbers, playing cards and other memorable moments.   


There is a heightened focus on design in sports and you see that in the architectural statements, the more finished interior spaces, the landscaped plaza and artwork across the country.  

How do you best engage and harness community support for holistic, integrated sports venue projects that to be approved need public approval to succeed?

That’s the core of success. To feel like a community views your project as their project, is as important as the team, financial structure, political leadership, and other underpinnings. One thing that Fran Weld has had great success within her work is identifying how to tap into that. It could be changing zoning, creating representatives for funding, and looking at how you can ensure policy around the project reflects what the community is interested in seeing. Understanding the community needs from these multiple angles allows them to see things they might not have otherwise seen.

In each of TPR’s past interviews of you, you have noted your commitment to sustainability. How have you incorporated a rapidly evolving notion of sustainability into your newer projects?

Well, sustainability is such a broad term. It would be a mistake not to think of it through every lens, starting with building location, which is another good reason why we love cities, the infrastructure is already there. We’re not tapping into a place where you must bring everything in. We’re building on what's already there. There are challenging questions of climate change, what do rising sea levels mean when many of our projects have been on waterfronts? Ocean or river, it’s something that causes us to have to consider not theoretically, but practically. What do we do? What elevation are we working at? These kinds of issues are everyday matters, and we enjoy the challenge of trying to figure things out within the context of our projects.

The above responses offer a perfect segue to the recent announcement of the Canopy Team, a woman-led planning and development firm that involves not only you, but also Fran Weld, the former SVP of Strategy and Development with the San Francisco Giants as CEO. Share the focus and mission of Canopy as well as the teams’ expertise, perspective, and experience in sports venue planning, development, and special events.

With Stan Kasten’s encouragement, we realized that the work we had completed individually and collectively around sports and thinking differently was something that many sports teams and cities aspire to do. Universities as well, are looking at sports very differently. How can you leverage what you’re hosting so it serves your population? We were asked individually to work on so many projects over the years that we finally decided it was time just to hoist a banner and call ourselves a business, and figure out how we could take on other clients.

With Fran Weld at the helm and as CEO of Canopy, a name which evokes an umbrella of inclusion, we’ve been in business for a little over a year. Our 20-something clients range from professional sports, museums, to colleges, and are looking not just at sports and how they're integrated in the greater landscape, but how the tapestry that is our urban life can be made richer. By looking at things differently, understanding how a building can tell us our own story, and how it can be home to a multitude of different audiences.

We have projects with long gestation periods of years, if not decades, looking at development issues and how we can plan the sports aspect as part of an overall strategy for urban development or campus development. Then we also have another project that's artwork displays and memorabilia, which we always call the icing on the cake of our projects. However, it has become such a signature focus for Canopy that we've had sports teams saying, look, our building itself isn't ready for any kind of major capital improvement but we could use some of that cake icing that has made your buildings so special.

So we've enjoyed those projects, too. We refer to them as our fun stuff because they are. They're quick and easy but it's a lot of research. We get to work with local artists, so we welcome the creativity that comes with that.

Clearly, the Canopy Team’s professional experience is exceptional. Is it also significant that Canopy is a woman-led firm?

I don't really know what to say about that but let me just note the following: Whether you're looking at our world through a lens of sports, architecture, or construction, you find more men in those industries than women. Yet, Fran and I have had a lot of success in that world. I don't necessarily think there's a feminine perspective we bring to it, but I think there is an attitude we bring to it that is inherently about building a broader audience.

We pride ourselves on having a track record proven, and yet no two projects look alike or include replicable elements. We love how diverse our country is and how many different stories can be told in different regions. Whether it's Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, we try very hard to be mindful that the city itself is the inspiration.

Closing question. As you noted, it's been more than three decades since you wrote an unsolicited letter to the president of the Baltimore Orioles pitching your urban planning concepts for Camden Yards. How much of your thinking re urban planning has changed since managing that first ballpark project?

Well, I've learned that time doesn't stand still. What's right for one decade may not be the answer for another decade. It’s very important to stay abreast of development changes and be responsive to differing trends and never be afraid to introduce new ideas into the mix.   Sports are part of how we spend our leisure time, and so are museums, parks, concerts, film, theatre and learning from any place where people congregate can be inspirational.   


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.