Camden Yards, a ballpark revered since its opening in 1992 as one of the best in baseball, is set to undergo a third major renovation in its history.

The first rolled out in 2012, shortly after Janet Marie Smith returned to the organization as the Orioles’ vice president of planning and development. Smith had been pivotal 20 years earlier in the construction of Oriole Park; her next task was modernizing it to maintain its status.

The Orioles added a roof deck to the top of the batter’s eye structure, which Smith told The New York Times at the time was created to offer fans more room to congregate. They thinned out the upper deck with roomier seats, created a sculpture garden and picnic area beyond center field and made the flag court more viewer friendly.

The upgrades encouraged fans to watch the game from more areas than just their seats.

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“Buildings are elastic,” Smith told The New York Times in 2012, “and no doubt there will be continued tweaking as the seasons go by.”

The tweaks have continued, all right. Another came in 2022, when the Orioles pushed back the left field wall to prevent their pitchers from giving up so many homers. And now a survey sent last week ushers in the first steps of the third major upgrade expected to reach Camden Yards.

Some of the concepts floated by the organization in the survey take the 2012 upgrades a step further but follow a similar congregation-area vein. There’s the idea of “The Nest,” which would incorporate a casual bar space into the ballpark. There are other high-end options available as premium sections. The survey even asked whether fans would like a crab shack.

“Fan and community feedback will be strongly considered as we evaluate what changes to bring to Oriole Park,” an Orioles spokesperson said.

A new lease at Camden Yards for at least another 15 years allows the club to begin using $600 million in taxpayer-financed bonds for upgrades. A timeline for when construction would begin isn’t clear, nor is it clear which concepts will be incorporated.

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Smith — who’s now the co-founder of Canopy Team, a project management, design and architecture firm in Baltimore — isn’t onboard this time to direct the upgrades to Camden Yards as a member of the organization. But she was as interested as any fan in the survey the Orioles delivered to many inboxes.

Below is a conversation with Smith about the future of Camden Yards, stadium trends in general and how the upgrades to Oriole Park can maintain the best attributes of the stadium while freshening it 32 years after its debut.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards will undergo the third major renovation of its existence. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

You were here for the 2012 upgrades. Do the concepts floated in the survey continue the trends put in place then?

Smith: “Those changes were meant to reflect something that Camden Yards arguably started, with the standing room on the flag court and above the bullpens when it opened in 1992. But that more fluid way of watching a game had become even more popular in 20 years, and we were desirous in adding more of that. And so, thus was born doing the bar on top of the batter’s eye, lowering the scoreboard on the flag court so you had more fans who had a good view of the game, replacing some of the club seats with the bistro tables and chairs, the drink rail and barstool, and even thinning out the upper deck by putting in the wider seats, so that we went from 48,000 down to 43,000 just by making the seating in the upper deck more comfortable and easier for fans to get up and move around. You weren’t stepping over so many fans if you had a middle-of-the-row seat. And I think the Orioles have always wanted to stay ahead of the curve on how fans watch baseball and to reflect this market. This market is really full of serious baseball fans, and they like being there to watch the game, and they’re not as likely to be looking for the ‘corporate’ experience that accompanies other parks, and I think the Orioles would’ve done more of this sooner had the funding been available. So, nice that the lease extension gives them that opportunity.”

The central focus when making Camden Yards more than 30 years ago was to reflect Baltimore. How can these concepts keep the city in focus?

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Smith: “I think the question is really, what reflects Baltimore today? In the years since Camden Yards opened, there’s a lot of fantastic companies here, and they’re some of the more innovative tech companies, creative companies, companies associated with our strong medical institutions. So, how you weave into the ballpark the kind of food, beverage experience that draws that crowd vs. a community that might have more of a financial, corporate base is maybe worth looking at. And I think that one of the things that’s exciting about some of those concepts is that they build on what’s already there, and no doubt the idea ‘The Nest’ was born from something the Rockies did years ago. It was a very creative solution to an outfield upper deck section at Coors Field, which was to transform a traditional seating bowl into a series of roof decks and bars, and I suspect that’s very much the model for this, which would make a lot of sense in Baltimore.”

You see more and more standing-room-only areas around the country, right?

Smith: “Most Orioles fans probably don’t know that Camden Yards was one of the first ballparks that opened in this generation that had a complete 360 that fans could view. So, how do you build on that? How do you, rather than resting on your laurels as being one of the first to debut that feature, how do you build on that so fans are motivated to want to make that trek down Eutaw Street and across the picnic area and through the main concourse?”

Which, if any, of the concepts might not work in Baltimore?

Smith: “Anytime you’re doing a survey and you’re sharing with fans concepts, you’re pointing to similar approaches somewhere else, because you haven’t created one of your own. So it doesn’t surprise me there would be these examples from other markets. But I think the feedback is very telling, and maybe more telling than the survey is the comments people have on it, where they are on forums that they can speak kind of freely. So, I don’t think it really surprised me to see that there was an examination of what constitutes premium seating in today’s environment, what constitutes social areas in today’s environment. What would it take it to motivate you to come early, to stay later, to come more frequently? Clearly, because the survey was going to people who bought tickets before, they’re reaching out to those who have experiences. I think another series of questions might be, how much of Baltimore has never experienced Camden Yards, and how can we get those fans to engage in something that is so identified with our city? How can we make it more of a backyard for a broader demographic?”

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Orioles control person David Rubenstein signs autographs for fans while serving as "Mr. Splash" during a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles on Friday, May 10.
Orioles owner David Rubenstein has been visible around the ballpark since taking over as control person. (Paul Mancano/The Baltimore Banner)

This is a ballpark that ushered in a new generation of stadiums around the country. How vital is it to not necessarily change the bones and take away the fact this is, first and foremost, a great ballpark within which to watch baseball?

Smith: “I think that’s a super important criterion for all 30 Major League Baseball teams. Baseball is the only sport where fans literally do the chase to see all 30 parks, and it’s on their bucket list to see where every major league team plays. And that’s because the parks are different. The field itself is different at every major league ballpark. It becomes part of the game. The strategy of the game itself is modified by the field itself, and the traditions fans have — whether it’s the seventh-inning stretch or whether it’s the food that’s served or whether it’s the uniqueness of the Warehouse in Baltimore, the beautiful parks in Los Angeles, the Citgo sign and Green Monster in Boston, the view of the St. Louis Arch in St. Louis. Every city has something that keenly ties it to its city. Pittsburgh and its positioning on the river with the views of downtown, and Citizens Bank Park, even how it’s sort of focused on downtown Philadelphia. All those things are so much part of the game, and I think what makes baseball special is they’re not all the same. And unlike the NBA, NHL or NFL — which do have standards in stride to be more like each other in many ways — baseball has always celebrated its identity with the city it’s in. So, I certainly would hope and expect, with a new owner who’s authored the PBS series “Iconic America,” who has been so steeped in preserving the history of our national archives, that this celebration of Baltimore and what baseball has meant to this city and what Camden Yards meant to the revitalization of downtown would be something that would be celebrated and maintained as something unique going forward.”

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Smith: “Wearing my Canopy hat, the company that Fran Weld and I founded that’s based here in Baltimore, but having worked both nationally and internationally, I think that last question you asked is the very thing that we found has made the work that we’ve done special. How do you really understand a community and understand how it celebrates baseball, and what makes it special to that community? How do you make more of that? I think it’s important as a means of growing the game, too. This isn’t just about how you drive more people to the ballpark. It’s how do you take the emotion of the game that has so many stories around it and such legacy — and I think that’s another thing that separates baseball from other sports, is we do know so much about its history, and we use that as a building block for its future. So, I think that Baltimore has always prided itself on being ahead of trends, and I’ve always reminded myself that the way the city pioneered turning around its downtown when industry left in the ’60s and ’70s, the creation of the Inner Harbor and the seven-mile waterfront promenade and anchoring it with attractions like the aquarium and the science center were bold moves two generations ago. How as a city do we look forward and make sure we don’t just look around and see what everyone else is doing but say, ‘This is Baltimore, and what do we do that makes us proud?’”