The boom of new ballparks in Major League Baseball during the 1990’s and early 21st century resulted in some of the finest facilities around. It brought about the trend of retro parks, state-of-the art retractable roof venues, and thorough incorporations of modern amenities.
However, for every ballpark concept that came to fruition, many never made it beyond the planning stages. To recap some of the notable unrealized ballpark proposals, Ballpark Digest highlights five notable 21st century plans.
1.) Labatt Park—Montreal’s Unfulfilled Dream
Approximate Opening Day: 2002 Cost estimate (in millions): $250 Capacity: 36,287
This ballpark had a little of everything, including a naming rights partner, a site, and an eye-catching design, but Labatt Park never came to fruition. Following the 1994 strike, the Montreal Expos made it clear that a new ballpark was needed to ensure that the team was viable in the future, as Olympic Stadium was obsolete on many levels.
The concept unveiled by team president Claude Brochu in 1997—and later pushed by owner Jeffry Loria—called for a new ballpark in downtown Montreal. Eventually known as Labatt Park, the open-air ballpark’s final design by Provenchor_Roy bucked several trends, mainly by incorporating a more modern look rather than following the retro park model.
Though the ballpark gathered steam in the early 2000’s, it was halted because Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard did not want to fund the proposal while Olympic Stadium was still being paid off. With that, Loria sold the Expos to Major League Baseball, setting the stage for them to move to Washington.
2.) The Rays New Home by the Bay
Approximate Opening Day: 2012 Cost estimate: $450 Capacity: 35,000
The Tampa Bay Rays are still searching for a new home to replace Tropicana Field, and their efforts are continually focused on the Tampa Bay area. That their pursuit would still be unfolding today seemed unfathomable for a brief time in 2008, when Rays Ballpark was discussed.
Pitched for the site of Al Lang Field in downtown St. Petersburg, Rays Ballpark would have been an intimate venue with a striking view of Tampa Bay. In a unique design feature, Populous incorporated a retractable roof that would have operated on a pulley system rather than on traditional solid materials.
Local and state officials initially supported the concept, and at one point pushed for a referendum during the 2008 Election. However, public opposition quickly grew, with detractors citing issues that ranged from cost to the ballpark’s potential impact on the waterfront. Seeing that the political climate was against the ballpark, the Rays put the proposal on hold and it has never been revived.
3.) Cisco Field—A Ballpark for Two Cities
Approximate Opening Day: 2014 (Freemont) Cost estimate: $462 Capacity: 32,000+
Like the Rays, the Oakland A’s are still in the midst of a search for a new ballpark. For several years, however, the team pushed a concept called Cisco Field, which holds the distinction as the only facility on this list to be proposed in two different cities.
360 Architecture Gensler’s design kept its characteristics throughout the proposal. With a red brick exterior, the ballpark was designed to be an intimate venue that would open to its surroundings, as A’s owner Lew Wolff initially conceived a ballpark village development.
The ballpark and surrounding development were to be constructed on land in Freemont that was once expected to be used for a Cisco Systems expansion. Though privately financed, the ballpark was met with tepid reception locally, so Wolff proposed a similar concept in downtown San Jose. While San Jose officials rallied around the project, it never got off the ground because San Jose falls within the San Francisco Giants’ territorial rights. With the Giants refusing to budge, San Jose eventually took the issue to court, only to be rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court last October.
4.) Portland’s Baseball Pursuit
Approximate Opening Day: 2008 Cost estimate: $366 Capacity: 38,000
For many years, Portland has been among the markets mentioned as a possibility for either a relocation or expansion MLB franchise. Today nothing is in place on a political level to attract a team, but the city explored the idea more than a decade ago.
Starting in 2003, work began to study the possibility of a new ballpark in Portland, with HOK Sport designing the concepts and site plans. The project would have included work to make PGE Park—then the home of the Portland Beavers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League)—a temporarily facility, while a new ballpark was constructed. Several franchises were rumored over the years to be considering a move, including the Expos and Florida Marlins.
Five additional sites were outlined in the final report, with all but one near Union Station found to be compatible for the ballpark Portland officials were seeking. In the summer of 2004, mayor Vera Katz sent a letter expressing her support of the ballpark to MLB. (The letter and study remain online to this day.) Ultimately, Portland never built momentum towards funding for a ballpark of any kind, and eventually saw the Beavers relocate when a suitable replacement to PGE Park could not be conceived.
5.) The Marlins on the River
Approximate Opening Day: 2005 Cost estimate: $385 Capacity: 40,000
The opening of Marlins Park in 2012 brought an end to the Marlins’ ballpark saga, which had seen multiple owners try and fail to build a new ballpark. One early idea under former owner John Henry started to gather momentum, only to quickly fade away.
When locals soured on the Marlins’ proposal to build a ballpark at Bicentennial Park, a viable alternative emerged in a downtown site along the Miami River. MATEU Architecture designed a ballpark that was specific to that location, as it would have featured a river walk beyond the right field wall that offered a view into the facility. A retractable roof would have protected the ballpark from the elements, but the design featured a concept that allowed for natural air flow.
State of Florida officials—including governor Jeb Bush—at first criticized the plan, because part of its funding called for a tax on cruise passengers. When a new concept—one that involved money from a parking surcharge in Miami—was floated, it gathered favor with some and looked poised to be placed on a referendum. However, the movement to get the concept on the ballot never materialized, and Henry decided to not pursue the plan any further. Not long after, he sold the Marlins to Loria to facilitate a purchase of the Boston Red Sox.
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