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D.C. Picks 3 Finalists To Design Stadium

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page B01

A firm that has designed 10 of the most recent Major League Baseball stadiums is among the three finalists to become chief architect of Washington's new ballpark, sources close to the selection process said yesterday.

Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum's sports branch is generally considered the nation's leading sports architecture firm, especially for baseball stadiums. In recent years, the Kansas City, Mo., company has completed ballparks in San Diego, San Francisco and Pittsburgh; it is working on baseball stadium projects in St. Louis and Miami.

An artist's rendering shows Kansas City's planned downtown arena. A partner in that project, HOK Sport, is a finalist in bidding for a D.C. stadium. (Kansas City Star Via AP)

HOK Sport is joined on the short list by Dallas-based Harwood K. Smith Architects, which designed Miller Park in Milwaukee, and Skidmore Owings & Merrill, a major firm with international experience. Skidmore Owings, which has not designed ballparks, has teamed with Turner-Meis, a smaller firm with sports experience.

The three finalists, as first reported by the Washington Times, are interviewing with a six-member panel of representatives from the office of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), Major League Baseball and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is overseeing the stadium project. A winner will be selected at the end of next week.

Sports commission officials and a spokesman for Williams declined to comment yesterday because the process is not finished.

The commission received eight bids on the project last month after issuing a request that architects produce an iconic stadium that is not simply derivative of the throwback model that has been popular since Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992.

The commission stipulated other requirements, including that the winning firm contract some of the work to District companies and minority-owned firms. The six-member search committee whittled down the finalists after a review of the written proposals, which did not include specific design work.

Architects involved in the process said they believe HOK is favored by the search committee because of the company's long history with Major League Baseball. Several architects described HOK as the safest choice to get the massive project done in the tight, three-year timetable and within the $279 million budget for the ballpark.

But the architects also expressed surprise that the committee chose not to interview several firms whose portfolio is more varied, including Rafael Vinoly of New York and a joint bid from HNTB of Kansas City, Mo., which has significant sports architecture experience, and New York-based Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, founded by I.M. Pei.

Other bidders who did not make the final cut were David M. Schwarz, a Washington-based architect who designed the Texas Rangers' stadium; and Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn, whose team included Janet Marie Smith, who designed Oriole Park when she worked with HOK Sport. Smith now is working on a redesign of Boston's Fenway Park.

"HOK will produce a stadium that functions well, but my feeling was that the District and Sports Commission wanted a building that was iconic and more than just another ballpark," said one architect from another firm, who talked on condition of anonymity. "HOK did not bring in a name designer, as some others did."

While HOK is the most experienced with baseball stadiums, the two other finalists also have significant credentials.

Skidmore Owings & Merrill has done signature projects -- including the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Lever House in New York -- and is a leader in public projects such as convention centers. Its partner in the bid, Turner-Meis, was founded by two architects who helped design sports stadiums including the Los Angeles Lakers' Staples Center and the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field.

Harwood K. Smith Architects designed the Dallas Mavericks' American Airlines Arena and is renovating U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox. The firm is partnered with McKissack & McKissack, a leading black-owned firm based in the District.

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