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By Don Muret | November 30, 2015

The new spring training home for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals carries a heavy Florida beach theme with touches of the lush landscapes tied to the region’s golf resorts, according to designers with HKS, the project architect.

The two MLB teams recently broke ground on The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, a $144 million complex, in West Palm Beach. The 160-acre property had been a dump site for storm debris and yard waste. It’s situated six miles northwest of the city’s downtown and four miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

As construction starts, HKS has designed a ballpark that sits in the middle of the training fields, clubhouses and other support facilities for the Astros and Nationals. In that respect, the layout is similar to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and Camelback Ranch, a pair of HKS-designed spring training complexes in Arizona. For the most part, baseball fans experience the player drills as they make their way to those stadiums. In Florida, though, a complete loop runs through the site, said Mo Stein, the project’s principal-in-charge.

A lot of spring training facilities favor the stadium, with the training aspect in the rear,” said Fred Ortiz, HKS’s principal designer. “What we try to do is put the stadium at the heart of the site, where the feel of being close to a major league ballplayer is expressed and heightened to the max.”

For spring training in general, shade is a prime amenity. In West Palm Beach, HKS teamed with sculpture artist Blessing Hancock to design metal shade structures stretching over the concourse and along the party decks down the baselines.

In addition to cutting the sun’s rays, the laser-cut steel panels, depicting palm tree leaves and, on a smaller scale, baseball players in motion, meet the requirement for the community’s initiative for art in public places, Ortiz said.

HKS designed structures that rise in elevation from parking lots to the stadium’s front steps, because the high water table in Florida is not conducive to digging below ground. The concourse level itself is 14 feet above grade, and fans walk downstairs to reach their seats.

The six suites, one level above the seating bowl, are distinctive in that each suite’s floor extends from the interior lounge at the same level. Typical suites have tiered rows of seating with seats attached to the floor.

Chairs can be moved from drink rails facing the action to tables behind the rails. The design ties into local architecture, where exterior space is as important as interior space, Stein said.

The suites connect to group spaces in the left field and right field corners, giving flexibility for larger gatherings, Ortiz said.

For the training fields, elements of golf course design tied to well-shaded pathways and grass berms will offer prime views for watching drills, Ortiz said.

The complex will serve West Palm’s recreational needs as well. The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches will include a 12-acre park connected to an existing lake. A public plaza on the stadium’s west side can be used for city festivals, Stein said.

Outside the stadium, the grass lots used for parking during spring training will be converted to soccer fields during the offseason.

The project is targeted to open for 2017 spring training.

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