Adaptive Reuse: Crafting a State-of-the-Art Ballpark from an Unused Train Station

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Adaptive reuse is a way for commercial properties to find a new life, and they can be a win-win situation for developers and a community. This is the case for Minute Maid Park, the home of the Houston Astros Major League Baseball team. Through creative design and planning, Houston has a ballpark that is unlike any other. It gives a nod to its past while projecting success for the future, and adaptive reuse has made it into the iconic site that it is today.

Long before the Astros were founded and even longer before Minute Maid Park was constructed, the plot of land in downtown Houston at 501 Crawford Street belonged to the Houston Belt and Terminal Railway Company. The company dedicated the opening of Union Station in 1911, and it served as the main passenger terminal for Houston, which was at that time considered the railroad hub of the southern U.S. Union Station operated successfully for more than 60 years until the service of its last train ceased in 1974. In 1977, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places, and it remained that way for several decades until it found new life as a vital park of today's ball park experience. 

Fourteen leading companies joined together in 1996 to form the Houston Sports Facility Partnership, and, together, they raised the necessary funding to start building a new ballpark in downtown Houston. HOK Sports Facilities Group was in charge of the construction and plans, and they took steps to preserve the city’s heritage while still delivering a high-quality ballpark experience to fans. The original building of Union Station was left standing and was designed to function as the lobby and main entrance to the field. Stadium architecture reflected the look and feel of the “Golden Age” of baseball, and it fit seamlessly alongside the 1911 station. 

But beyond simply constructing a ballpark on the site with the Union Station attached, the architects wanted to give it some unique aspects that reflected its past. The entire left field wall has the look of a train platform, and a railroad track was placed across the top, which provides a visual tie to the heritage of both the station and the city. Each time an Astros player hits a home run, the train runs the length of the track, and the tradition has quickly become iconic for the ballpark. Other notable features include a large, fully-retractable roof, which gives the stadium the distinction of having the first such roof in the MLB. A 50,000-square-foot glass wall behind the train track gives fans a view of the downtown skyline, even when the roof is closed. 

When the stadium first opened in 2000, it was known as “The Ballpark at Union Station,” but, later that year, the naming rights were sold, and it became “Enron Field.” After the financial scandal and later collapse of that company, the rights were revoked, and the field was named “Astros Field” for a short interim period. Then, in June of 2002, Minute Maid bought the naming rights in a $100 million, 30-year deal, and the stadium officially became known as “Minute Maid Park.”

By definition, the process of change is never over. Despite the major architectural breakthroughs and aesthetically pleasing facades and elements of Minute Maid Park, more changes were necessary. When the stadium was first constructed, it included a hill – Tal's HIll – in deep center field with a flag pole that was part of the field of play. The post-season renovations in 2016 removed the iconic feature to make room for additional seating and amenities so that, beginning with the 2017 season, fans will experience improved concession options and easier access via the new escalators. While some may protest the change of such an iconic element, such change is the essence of adaptive reuse.

In today’s world of environmental awareness and calls for preserving resources, it’s no wonder that some groups have chosen adaptive reuse as a course of action for new construction. Minute Maid Park is a prime example of the process gone right.

By Bryce Roberts

By Topics