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More open spaces coming to Oriole Park

The Baltimore Orioles and Maryland Stadium Authority had two things in mind with the improvements they are making to Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the iconic stadium’s 20th anniversary: Inclusion and open spaces.

Carpenters Keith Metz (left) and Larry Chavis work on the Roof Deck, a new bar that will be on top of the batter’s eye wall in center field at Camden Yards.

The changes, which include the Roof Deck, a full-service bar and seating area atop the batter’s eye wall in center field, are “for anybody who’s bought a ticket for the ball game,” said Doug Duennes, the team’s executive vice president of business operations. Friday is the Orioles’ home opener against the Minnesota Twins.

“All of the improvements are for any of our fans who are attending our ball game, not for a select few.”

The Roof Deck will hold from 400 to 500 people, said Kevin Cummings, director of ballpark operations. Before this season, that area wasn’t open to fans — only to lonely cameramen.

Also, the out-of-town scoreboard wall in right field has been lowered by about four feet, and the concrete was replaced by a metal mesh wall and railing, improving the visibility from Flag Court. There’s also a bar going in the space.

Both of those elements provide fans with unique vantage points and areas to interact with each other, “instead of just sitting in your row next to three people,” Cummings said.

But not all of the renovations require a ticket: A gate that previously restricted access to the stadium’s bullpen picnic grove area has been removed, and visitors will have access to the space on non-game days. Bronze sculptures of Orioles Hall-of-Famers Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. will adorn the picnic area.

Though the team is staying hushed about exactly where each sculpture will reside — there are six platforms in the picnic area — the first sculpture, of Frank Robinson, will be revealed on April 28, with the others to follow throughout the season. Maryland sculptor Antonio Mendez designed the figures.

Improvements to the stadium ensure that “the ballpark is playing the role in downtown revitalization that it’s intended to,” said Janet Marie Smith, vice president of planning and development.

A ballpark that anchored the west side of Baltimore was part of the vision of late Gov. William Donald Schaefer, another force behind the stadium’s creation, and continues to be in line with the desires of team owner Peter Angelos, she said.

Smith, an architect who returned to the Orioles in 2009 after working on Turner Field and Philips Arena in Atlanta and Fenway Park in Boston, was one of the driving forces behind the original design of Camden Yards in 1992.

The most frustrating question at the park’s inception was: “How do we know that this new park can stand the test of time?” Smith said. As the stadium prepares to celebrate its 20th birthday, Smith said she feels a combination of both relief and pride.

Camden Yards changed the idea of what a baseball stadium should look and feel like, and that hasn’t changed, said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports business expert and economics professor at Smith College in Massachusetts.

“The trend that Camden Yards began, with the idea of a retro architecture ballpark next to the downtown business district, is still the main idea people are following,” he said. “What you’re getting now is more bells and whistles, more colors… fancier club sections, but it’s all kind of incremental changes to the basic model that [Larry] Lucchino and Janet [Marie Smith] developed at Camden Yards.”

Lucchino, president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, held the same job with the Orioles from 1988 to 1993.

Though the Roof Deck space could be likened to the Green Monster seats at Fenway Park, the test model was last season’s addition of bar stools and more open areas to the club level, Smith said, adding that the improvements won’t change the overall look of the park.

“The beauty of it is that the postcard view doesn’t look any different,” Smith said.

The former Bud Light Warehouse Bar that was open in the warehouse on game days is being replaced by Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant, named after former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey, who owns a piece of the restaurant.

Though Dempsey’s will only be serving drinks and a limited menu on Opening Day, and will only be open on game days throughout April, it is scheduled for a full opening in late April. Once that happens, Dempsey’s will be serving its house-brewed beers and American fare for lunch and dinner year-round.

That’s a welcome addition, said Chris Guilen, 35, of Howard County, who was in the Sports Legends Museum store on Tuesday afternoon, after visiting the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum with her kids.

“There’s so many tourists down here all the time,” she said, adding that a new restaurant so close to the stadium may give visitors the feel of Camden Yards, even if they can’t make it to a game.

People without game tickets will be able to enter the restaurant on game days through an entrance on the east side of the warehouse, said Monica Barlow, director of public relations for the Orioles.

Two other local eateries — Gino’s Burgers and Chicken and Stuggy’s — will open directly below the Roof Deck area.

The ballpark’s other renovations include a new canopy for the warehouse, new flooring and wall coverings in the main concourse and the addition of a “Eutaw Market” convenience store on Eutaw Street.

Ellicott City-based Benaka Inc., Boston-based Shawmut Design and Construction and Baltimore-based Waverly Construction and Management Co. oversaw various parts of the renovations.

The stadium authority took on $2.5 million of the project costs, and additional funds were contributed by the Orioles and the stadium’s concessionaire, Sportservice, a part of Buffalo-based Delaware North Cos.

This year is also the last year of a $30 million, three-year maintenance and improvement project taken on by the stadium authority, which oversaw and paid for construction of the park. In previous years, the authority replaced the seats in the lower-level seating bowl, upgraded concessions and food equipment, and added more open, bar-like seating areas to an expanded club level.