ARLINGTON, Texas — On what would be the last day of the Baltimore Orioles season, Shawn and Meagan Whalen were sitting in the lower concourse of Globe Life Field, entertaining a hypothetical question — one that might be the key to the future of Camden Yards.
It’s no secret that the Orioles CEO John Angelos covets the ability to open areas adjacent to the ballpark to corporate development. Texas Live! in Arlington is one model state leaders and team officials are looking at, according to people familiar with the negotiations. The airy, TV-screen-laden food and bar area has been copy-pasted next to a few big sporting venues (and indeed, Live! properties already exist in other parts of Baltimore).
The question: Would you want a Texas Live! venue on the doorstep of Camden Yards? To some extent, the Harford County couple can see it both ways.
“Let’s play devil’s advocate: As a visiting fan, it’s nice to know you have a place outside of the park where you’re safe,” Shawn said. “Everywhere we go, we always go to the Live! that’s outside the stadium.”
Meagan spoke up for the other side: “I think it’s good the way it is. Corporate doesn’t need to own everything.”
It’s a debate worth having this offseason: The team’s lease is set to expire Dec. 31, and while the state and the Orioles had a splashy scoreboard announcement for a memorandum of understanding to get a 30-year lease done, no legally binding paperwork has been signed. The biggest logistical issue remaining is how to spur private development around the stadium on what is currently public land.
Discussions in the spring centered on the Battery, an enormous complex adjacent to the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park well outside the city’s downtown core. The Battery includes has its own Live! facility. Like the one in Arlington, it was developed by the Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based developer. The firm also owns the office space leased by The Baltimore Banner.
In Arlington, the Texas Live! venue consists of a dozen bars and food vendors centralized around a two-story wall of TVs tuned to all conceivable sports programming, an area known as the “Arena”. Texas Live! also has an outdoor concert area that can accommodate up to 4,000 people. The best feature might be proximity: The complex abuts Globe Life Park directly, allowing fans to roll in and roll out of the game through Texas Live! if they wish.
Texas Live! presents on paper like a bit of a compromise: In downtown Baltimore, it’s much more workable to find space and investment for a 170,000-square-foot complex like Texas Live! than a 2.25 million-square-foot development like the Battery. But it’s also in a vastly different environment than Baltimore: suburban and relatively lifeless on a weekday.
“There’s nothing, right? Just the stadium and that environment,” said Kenny Stack, an Orioles fan who lives in Frisco. “And that’s great, but there’s nothing else around. You’re not going to Six Flags after the game.”
Stack moved to Texas in 2016, and he’s come to Arlington frequently for baseball games, football games, Wrestlemania and even to Texas Live! specifically to watch Maryland games. But he still visits Camden Yards about once a year with his wife. There is a highly nostalgic appeal to Stack about walking up to the warehouse in the dense city atmosphere, then heading to a seat with an unencumbered backdrop of the Baltimore skyline.
“For me, it’s like, don’t ruin the aesthetic of seeing the city,” Stack said. “Don’t ruin the vibe, I guess you could say, of that stadium.”
One of the publicly stated goals of the Orioles and the state has been to open Camden Yards to more year-round traffic and events. On that front, T.J. Garofola could see how a Live! complex adjacent to Camden Yards could fulfill that goal.
The Little Elm resident, who is also an Orioles fan, recognizes that Live! facilities draw a stronger attraction to out-of-towners who are simply looking for a place to hang out before and after the game. But nationally televised studio shows set up shop at Live!, and smaller-scale events are hosted there, too. Texas Live! also serves as something of a proxy for the events that happen nearby: Fans will come, not to attend the game itself, but even to watch on the big screens and drink as if they’re in the stands.
“You get people who don’t even have a desire to go to the game, but they want the game atmosphere, and they go there for the game atmosphere,” Garofola said. “And then right after they’re there outside, cheering with the people that went to the game.”
Yes, Maryland Live! Casino and Power Plant Live! are nearby. But Dan and Donna Bollinger see the value of having a large sports bar complex directly next to the park, making it easy for people to remain in a smaller footprint without having to wander the city. The Norfolk-based couple watched games at Texas Live! the night before the Orioles and Rangers played.
“We said, ‘This is perfect,’” Donna Bollinger said. “If they had this closer to the stadium in Baltimore, this would be amazing.”
It’s not an opinion shared by everyone — even the Whalens, the frequent Live! patrons in Philadelphia. Shawn owns his own roofing business, and wonders what might become of local watering holes Pickles or Section 771 on Washington Boulevard next to Camden Yards if a new corporate bar is built.
The Whalens are OK with development, but not if it comes at the expense of what makes Camden Yards the special place they know it to be.
“I like Live! But not enough to have another one at Camden Yards,” Shawn Whalen said.