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Changes will be noticeable to stadium fans

Baltimore Orioles fans will flood Eutaw Street on Monday to see an updated and enhanced stadium, much like the way they came to a new ballpark on April 6, 1992.

As Camden Yards enters its 20th season, the Maryland Stadium Authority and the team are in the middle of a three-year, $30 million renovation project. Last year, some of the seating was replaced, but this year’s changes will be more noticeable to fans.

Among the renovations is an $11 million upgrade to concessions and food equipment, putting in more new seats, and working on décor around the park, according to Janet Marie Smith, vice president of development and planning for the Orioles. Smith recently came back to the team after working for the Boston Red Sox.

For the 2011 season, more social seating, including bar stools and open railings, will be in the club sections, and a change-up in concessions will give fans more food options. The team’s culture and history will be more prominent in new artwork along the concourse as part of an ongoing effort to decorate the park.

Also, new, less-intrusive railings have been installed on the club level and upper deck.

During the 2009 off-season, all seats in the lower-level seating bowl were replaced, and necessary repairs were made to the concrete. Related work was finished this past winter, as the Stadium Authority repaired concrete and replaced seats in the entire club level and upper deck.

Several skyboxes were also eliminated and refurbished to make room for more party suites and casual luxury boxes, another one of the elements Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos wanted to incorporate, Smith said.

Angelos did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Gathering places

Adding bar stools and more open areas to the club level, where fans can gather and watch the game while having a beer with friends whose seats when their seats aren’t together, has been a key to integrating club-level visitors with the rest of the ballpark. The drink rail seating will accommodate more than 100 people, and 15 bistro tables were added to left-field club-level sections.

Another crucial flourish is to actually decorate Camden Yards, Smith said. This year, more artwork and graphics will be added to the concourse, including photographs of Orioles from the past and otherwise telling the history of the team visually.

“Birdland Memories” is a series of billboards featuring moments in the team’s history, and graphics with lyrics to Orioles-themed songs flank the park’s stairwells.

The home plate plaza lobby, between Gates D and E, is being refurbished with new granite tile flooring. Smith has been working with David Ashton on the graphic design; they worked together on the ballpark’s original graphics in 1992.

“They really kind of upgraded the product off the field,” said Thomas J. Noonan, CEO of the city’s tourism agency, Visit Baltimore. “And for the first time in years, I think people are genuinely excited about the product on the field.”

Reaching out to fans’ stomachs was another way the Orioles changed their offerings to visitors this season. A new concessions deal with Buffalo, N.Y.-based Delaware North Cos. Sportservice is part of an effort to integrate more Baltimore-culture food into the ballpark.

New food items

New food items, including crab cakes and other local-themed dishes, were developed after Sportservice executives and chefs visited dozens of Baltimore-area restaurants following the Orioles’ announcement of the 12-year partnership in November.

Along with the menu, new concessions-related technology has been added, including a point-of-sale system for faster and better customer service, said Orioles spokesman Greg Bader. New grills and equipment have been added so that a wider variety of food can be prepared fresh in front of customers.

Former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell will still offer his barbecue sandwiches at the park. This season he’ll have a bigger sandwich with more meat, “The Big Boog.”

New bars and retail locations were added to the concourse for the 2011 season as well, including a Natty Boh Bar and Free State Pub, which will feature local craft and specialty beers.

The Orioles are also looking to make the concourse more decorative and less stark, possibly by covering the floor or treating the walls.