While I originally thought replacing a facility that opened in 1997 was absurd, the Cubs may actually have a point, as the bland and sterile HoHoKam simply doesn’t measure up to other parks of it’s time
March 6th, 2011: Field Box
By: Cole Shoemaker
I usually don’t review (or go out of my way to see) ballparks that are about to close, unless there is some sort of historical significance obviously. But Hohokam Park, and the situation the city of Mesa was going through, was something I had to see.
I’m not one to complain about wasteful spending on new, unnecessarily ballparks, that in all honesty, likely won’t jumpstart significant economic development in the area. We’ve looked at the research. But I don’t care. That’s not my game (I usually fall for the civic pride argument). Unless there’s significant historical attachment, give me a new ballpark!
But even I found this one ridiculous. Replacing a ballpark built in 1997!?!? Why? (some claim it’s technically a renovated version of the old one, but that’s not really true). I knew spring training ballparks had a historically short lifespan, but these new 90s ballparks were meant to be more economically sustainable and attractive.
I looked at the blue print: It has suites. It has party decks. It has a wraparound concourse with berms. The existing structure easily allows for upgraded amenities and renovations. What’s the beef? The Cubs were being frivolous, unfairly leveraging their large, multigenerational fan base for an unneeded new facility from a cash-strapped city like Mesa.
And then I actually went to the ballpark. My answer ultimately fell somewhere in the middle. As ridiculous as I found Mesa throwing 84 million at a new facility, I was just as amazed at just how boring, uninspired, and sterile the entire existing ballpark was, in every single way (save the fans).
The exterior concrete couldn’t be more tasteless and muted, and not in a 80s utilitarian kind of way, but in an imagineless way. The interior is the same, characterized by an oddly lazy and vague southwest sensibility illustrated by the grandstand façade and steel canopy. The seats are as narrow as they come. No cup holders anywhere. The concourses are dark and dingy. The aisles behind the seats and the bullpens all have aggressive, unfriendly NO STANDING signs. Circulation is confusing and randomly cuts off a certain points, reminiscent of a jewel box park constructed piece by piece as years went by.
Oh, yeah, and how about the fact that the concourse leading from the grandstand to right field is randomly cut off by a passageway, which is fenced off during batting practice. In fact, you can’t even access the berms during batting practice. And to top it all off, it’s across the street from a f-ing cemetery!
Yet it’s oddly just adequate enough in many ways as well. I couldn’t imagine a place with less character, which is especially salient because the Cubs play here. It’s the perfect storm of banality. Even its namesake screams identity crisis. Hohokam Park and Hohokam Stadium are used interchangeably; the two names even have two different yelp accounts! How does that happen? I’ll take a dump with character over this.
It’s not like this was spring training circa 1985. By now, it had become a big business, not drastically different from now. Ballpark’s didn’t look like concrete ice boxes from the outside anymore. Roger Dean Stadium (1998), Tucson Electric Park (1998), Maryvale Baseball Park (1998), Disney Complex (1997) and Legends Field (1996) all have, or had, a certain aesthetic vision and overarching goal in their architecture. Peoria Sports Complex (1994), the pioneer, tops Hohokam in almost all categories. Even Hammond Stadium (1991) shows a superficial exterior façade can make a park timeless.
In every single design aspect, from the concourse circulation logistics to the architecture, they were behind from the start. What’s most astonishing is that they built this crap for the Cubs. Who was responsible for building a facility with such a lack of vision and timelessness? I find it hard to believe Cubs fans weren’t somewhat angry when comparing their new digs to others in 1997. I can’t find any negative articles (well at least Shawon Dunston didn’t like it), but I’d like an answer.
During the 1990s, new spring training ballparks replaced predecessors that didn’t have fold down seats (sometimes), suites, party decks, berms, 360 degree concourses, small video boards or even multiple concession stands. The novelty was simply having a ballpark that had a semblance of major league amenities.
The leases of these aforementioned “super stadiums” of the 90s, a term coined by the folks at Digital Ballparks, are now expiring, and teams have the option to renegotiate with the county. These ballparks originally changed the game, featuring attractive facades and major league amenities. But Camelback Ranch changed the game again, and not all of these 90s ballparks will last. The Cubs moving from Hokokam Park/Stadium and the eventual renovation of it shows that rudimentary amenities are no longer enough, as sustainable ballparks must have some sort of design character. As history will tell you, the turnover rate for spring training ballparks is remarkably high, often lasting only 12-15 years.
This latest event shows the 90s “super stadiums” aren’t totally immune to this trend, and a couple of them won’t last. I point this out because it used to be unimaginable that teams would leave any of these fantastic parks in only 15 years like they did with their previous parks (think Disney), as they were deemed more sustainable like the 90s major league retro stadiums. Luckily, I think most of the 90s ballparks did a great job, as teams will renew their leases. But in retrospect, Hohokam Park was clearly the weakest link.
Still, like New Comiskey, they should probably be renovating, not replacing. And it looks like they will be, but for the Athletics. It’s widely acknowledged to be adequate, and after we see the renovations for 2015, the park will be at least functionally superior (there’s talk of building a “grotto bar”!) But after actually attending the game and absorbing the stale architectural vibe, I don’t really care. And while you’re at it, decide on a name.NEXT - Setting