With a stunning design, strong sense of history and the latest in fan comforts, Huntington Park comes close to being the perfect baseball facility.
Year Opened: 2009
Capacity: 10,000 (7,600 seats, 1,200 specialty seats, 1,200 lawn/SRO spots)
Number of Suites: 32, with 42 loge boxes
Owner: Franklin County
Architect: 360 Architecture
Naming Rights: Huntington Bank, $12 million
Dimensions: 325L, 365LC, 400C, 365RC, 318R
Ticket Prices: Box Seats, $12 in advance, $15 day of game; Reserved Seats, $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and children twelve years old and under; Assigned Bleacher Seat General Admission, $6 for adults, $3 for seniors and children twelve years old and under.
League: International League (Class AAA)
Affiliation: Cleveland Indians
Parking: Between $3 and $10 in adjoining lots and ramps.
Address/Directions: 330 Huntington Park Lane, Columbus, Ohio 43215. Huntington Park Lane runs on the west side of the ballpark, away from the main gates. The ballpark is just down Nationwide Boulevard from Nationwide Arena; from any freeway we would suggest following the signs to Nationwide Arena, as ballpark signage is not yet up.
Joe Santry, the longtime PR director of the Columbus Clippers, was all smiles when we bumped into him in the press box of Huntington Park during our first visit to the ballpark. It was the day after Huntington Park opened, and Santry still had the glow of someone basking in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Everything went perfectly last night,” he said. “Absolutely perfect.”
Perfect is a good word to describe Huntington Park; it’s not an exaggeration to say Franklin County, the Columbus Clippers and 360 Architecture may have pulled off the ultimate ballpark, on any level. Combining a strong sense of place with the latest in ballpark features and an outstanding site, the creators of Huntington Park got everything right, creating a deep sense of place in a facility that’s only been open a few weeks. It does provide the ultimate baseball experience, providing an amazing level of intimacy in a venue seating over 10,000.
One recent trend in ballparks – and one we’ve spoke of in very favorable terms in new ballparks – has been the creation of discrete seating areas within the ballpark. When done awkwardly, as was the case in Great American Ball Park, these discrete areas tend to isolate fans in their own private Idahos. When done correctly, as is the case in Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field, these areas meld together into a shared baseball experience.
It was done perfectly in Huntington Park, where you don’t even notice the many segmented seating areas. The first discrete area is actually outside the ballpark: right-center field abuts the street, and instead of putting up a wall or fence cutting off the ballpark, the designed opted to put up screens. Since the playing field is below grade, fans can watch the game from outside the ballpark, looking down at the action from Nationwide Bouelvard. The Giants do this to great effect at AT&T Park; the Clippers do the same in Huntington Park.
The second and third levels of the grandstand hook around the foul pole and extend into right field, above these field-level screens. This area features bar seating and drink rails. You still have a clear view of the entire field, even on the third level. We imagine these seats will evolve into a prime spots for twentysomethings to meet; the seating is intimate and made for small groups, a la a sports bar.
Of course, there’s a real sports bar at the ballpark, and it’s a doozy. The Arena District of downtown Columbus is a mix of the old and the new, with plenty of older industrial and warehouse spaces mixing in with new parking ramps, office space and condos. When we approached the ballpark, we assumed the AEP Pavilion located beyond the left-field bleacher seating and concourse had been there for decades, although it is a freestanding building constructed along with the ballpark. On the first floor of the building are the team shop and concession stands. On the third level are a group area and a separate concessions area, along with rooftop bleachers – two more discrete areas that do not make fans feel cut off from the rest of the ballpark.
The second level contains the noteworthy sports bar (called, fittingly, the Left Field Bar & Grille), featuring a long bar, plenty of tables, and six balconies jutting over the concourse. This space also features the largest collection of sports memorabilia we’ve seen displayed at a ballpark outside of a designated museum. Every aspect of Columbus baseball history is lovingly detailed in the hundreds and hundreds of photos, playing equipment (some used almost a century ago) and other flotsam displayed in cases and on the walls. The Clippers and predecessors spent long stints as Yankees and Cardinals farm teams, while the area also hosted Negro Leagues teams. (When we asked Santry how long it took to put together the collection, his comeback was quick: “Forty years.”) Each era of Columbus baseball is lovingly detailed on pillar displays, with players like Bill Wright – one of the many Negro Leagues players never receiving their due in baseball history – highlighted. The trip through Columbus baseball history begin in the staircase leading up to the second level, where hand-painted murals featuring the faces of Yankees prospects are hung, reclaimed from Cooper Stadium, the team’s former home and one of the great historic venues of baseball.
Speaking of Cooper: Most fans will enter the ballpark from the center-field entrance, as that’s the one closest to the many parking ramps serving the ballpark and Nationwide Arena. There, fans are greeted with a statue of Harold Cooper, the man credited with bringing baseball back to Columbus and for whom Cooper Stadium was named. The statue lists Cooper’s accomplishments, while smaller plaques list the major teams in Columbus baseball history.
Getting back to our theme of discrete areas blended nicely into the whole: the club level, which can often feel like a fenced-off area, is open and large. The Clippers call it loge seating, with the club area actually extending down into the grandstand. The grandstand seating isn’t fixed theater-style seating, but rather office-style chairs in back of oversized drink rails, perfect for concessions or scorekeeping. Based on our visit we’d estimate fans spent about half of the game actually sitting at their assigned loge seats and spending the rest of the time hanging around the rest of the club area, which features plenty of table seating, two concession areas and a mondo bar.
n back of the club area: an open broadcast area for the team’s radio and TV announcers. Most announcers are separated from the ballpark experience, but the Clippers’ broadcasters are exposed and seemingly happy to chat with fans before the game. It’s a nice touch to bring the broadcasters to the core fan base on a nightly basis; we’re guessing it will make fans more ready to seek out game broadcasts when they’re away from the ballpark.
The seating bowl is a horseshoe, with sections down each line curving back toward the action. A berm seating area is next to the left-field bleachers, with bar rails in the back and a reserved picnic area in the corner. Again, more discrete seating areas in the middle of the action.
There is nothing at all symmetric in this ballpark, and we’re guessing this was a conscious decision on the part of 360 Architecture designers based on the unique lot layout. Early on the decision was made to orient the grandstand so the downtown skyline would be in back of the playing field – a smart decision – but that seems to have forced features like the aforementioned screens on the right-field fence. It also seems to have led to an asymmetric grandstand, with suites extending further down the right-field line than left.
Concessions are handled in an interesting fashion at Huntington Park. The grandstand concourse isn’t open, but the concession areas are. Two large concessions booths are located down each line, and the square concession boxes can be accessed on all sides, so fans do have a view of the action when they leave their seats for beer and dogs. These concession stands have garage-door-like covers that can be lowered when the ballpark is open for special events. The concourse area in the grandstand features additional specialty concession stands; an extremely tall ceiling and plenty of openings provide lots of light and turn what could have been a dark hallway into a specious area. This area also features more historical displays; the pillars sport lists of the best players in Columbus baseball history by position, while there’s a display of former Columbus ballparks in the right-field corner, in the picnic area.
Interestingly, there may be more in the way of historical displays than advertising signage in Huntington Park, as the county and the team had the financial luxury of not being forced to jam sponsorships down everyone’s throats to pay for the bills. There’s no signage at all on the outfield wall save a Wendy’s sponsorship of the aforementioned right-field balconies. The scoreboard is huge, anchored with a major sponsorship from the Columbus Dispatch. That sponsorship, by the way, is handled in a unique fashion. The scoreboard is actually five display boards: a main videoboard, two ribbon text boards above and below that, and two small video boards at the top, one mocked up to look like a newspaper front page and the other like a TV screen. The newspaper mock displays headlines from the newspaper both past and present. Two smaller boards at each end of the grandstand give fans everywhere in the park access to the score and other game info.
Signage in the concourse is also handled in a unique way: they are printed on plastic and then adhered directly to the brick wall. The process allows the shape of the brick to come through on the ad surface, making it look like the ads were painted directly onto the brick. It’s the coolest thing.
Indeed, there are a lot of cool things at Huntington Park, which comes as close to perfection as we’ve seen in any ballpark. With an embedded sense of place, a firm grasp on the grand history of baseball and a commitment to the latest in fan comforts, Huntington Park represents the very finest in ballpark design and operations. While there are some new ballparks that come very close – as you’ll see when we write about Parkview Field tomorrow – there are none better.
We’ve already described where the concessions are, but we’ve not discussed specifics. In general, there’s a wide assortment of offerings in the ballpark, including all the usual baseball fare. (Have a hot dog; they’re pretty tasty.) For folks who want something more substantial, there’s a full food menu in the left-field sports bar and in the club. In addition, the City Barbeque area down the right-field line offers ribs and pulled pork, chicken or beef sandwiches; at $5 they’re a ballpark bargain. The stand is located next to a large area featuring a slew of picnic tables; it’s a perfect place to sit down and enjoy a sandwich.
Beer lovers will want to head down the left-field line for the beer booth featuring Elevator Brewing microbews; most of the stands feature Bud products of some sort, but you won’t need to work too hard to find a stand featuring Labatt Blue. Tim Horton’s coffee is served throughout the park, but alas there didn’t seem to be any doughnuts available. For those with a sweet tooth, try some Velvet Ice Cream.
There’s plenty of parking in the area, constructed to serve the needs of Nationwide Arena and the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. The cost ranges from $3 to $10.
BEFORE/AFTER THE GAME
The proximity of Nationwide Arena means there’s a lot to do before and after the game. The bars and venues catering to NHL fans also are open to baseball fans as well.
Next to Nationwide Arena, on the other side of the arena from the ballpark, is an entertainment district of sorts. For Sunday afternoon games, a visit to the Starbucks would be in order; for a night game, some garlic fries and microbrews at Gordon Biersch is a must. There are plenty of other eateries in the general area.