The Atlanta Braves have selected the most prolific designer of Major League Baseball stadiums as lead architect for the team’s planned new ballpark in Cobb County.
The Braves’ choice is Kansas City-based Populous, which designed 19 of the 30 MLB stadiums currently in use, a team official confirmed Tuesday. The Braves are in contract negotiations with the firm, team spokeswoman Beth Marshall added.
Populous, formerly named HOK Sport, is known for its retro-style ballparks, a trend the firm pioneered with Baltimore’s highly acclaimed Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which opened in 1992. In recent years, Populous designed a range of baseball stadiums, including Marlins Park in Miami, Target Field in Minneapolis and stadiums in New York for the Yankees and Mets.
Populous also designed the current stadiums of the San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies, among others.
“They are certainly the biggest player in the game of stadium architecture,” said Robert Boland, a professor of sports management at New York University. “It is a very safe hire.”
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The Braves selected Populous over Dallas-based HKS, the other finalist for the job. HKS, which served as a consultant to the Braves last year, designed NFL stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts.
The Braves declined to elaborate on the selection of Populous, deferring comment until a contract is completed. Populous did not respond to requests for comment.
The memorandum of understanding between the Braves and Cobb County — approved by county commissioners in November — states that the Braves “shall contract with an architect,” subject to approval of the county and the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority.
The Braves have obtained the needed approvals, Cobb spokesman Robert Quigley said Tuesday.
Pending contract completion, Populous will become the second Kansas City-based firm designing an Atlanta stadium slated to open in 2017. The Falcons and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority last year hired 360 Architecture to design the new retractable-roof downtown stadium for a fee of $32.5 million, plus up to $2.5 million for expenses.
The agreement between the Braves and Cobb County states that the Braves “shall be responsible” for paying the architect, with the expenditure coming out of the team’s commitment of up to $372 million toward stadium construction. Cobb taxpayers are on the hook for $300 million toward building the $672 million ballpark.
Benjamin Flowers, a Georgia Tech architecture professor, called Populous “a very understandable and not surprising choice” as lead architect.
“They design a lot of different kinds of sports architecture (around the world) — soccer stadiums, cricket fields, natatoriums,” Flowers said. “But I would say their baseball work is actually somewhat more conservative and uniform than the practice in general.”
Based on Populous’ other baseball stadiums, Flowers expects the Braves design to have “a vaguely retro feel” and not push the envelope in the way that the Falcons stadium design does.
Boland, the NYU professor, said Populous-designed baseball stadiums tend to share a number of traits: “The seats are all angled to the field. The lower bowls are usually larger than the upper decks. There usually are luxury club areas close to the field. There are wide arcades or concourses to allow maximum in-game experience. And there usually are characteristics unique to each market reflected in the ballpark.”
The Braves have said their stadium architect also might be involved in designing the planned adjacent mixed-use development, but that decision will wait until a developer is lined up for the prospective complex of shops, restaurants, bars, residences and offices.