Meet Janet Marie Smith

Blackwell
Bill Blackwell

How does a state with a small population and low per capita income produce so many great writers, actors and athletes? At the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, we tell the stories of the Walter Paytons, Jerry Rices, Steve McNairs, Archie Mannings, Boo Ferrisss and so many more greats from Mississippi that have become World Class athletes in their chosen sports and all hail from our great state. On November 5th we add an Architect to those stories.

You may not be familiar with the name, Janet Marie Smith, but she has influenced the world of sports as much or more than anyone, especially the game of baseball. Janet Marie is a graduate of Jackson’s Calloway High School, and received her undergraduate degree from Mississippi State University and a graduate degree from City College of New York in architecture. She has never hit a ball out of the park, dunked a basketball or run for a touchdown but she has had a great impact on stadium design and fan enjoyment at venues across the country.

After working for a firm in New York City, Janet Marie got her first sporting design work in Atlanta working for Turner Broadcasting. At that time Turner owned both the Braves baseball team and the Hawks NBA squad. Janet Marie worked on two main projects for the Turner Group and their President, Stan Kasten, the construction of Phillips Arena which allowed the Hawks to leave the Omni, and the renovation of the Olympic Stadium just south of downtown Atlanta into Turner Field.

Having successfully accomplished these major projects, Larry Lucchino, President of the Baltimore Orioles brought Smith to Baltimore to design and consult on the building of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. At the time no one was sure how the public would react to a retro themed stadium in a warehouse district but Smith’s vision brought all the naysayers over to her side by offering elements to the stadium that others hadn’t. All the seats faced toward homeplate, concourses were wide and open, concessions were placed where the fans could keep up with the games while in line, and lines were shorter due to the number of stands and the design and flow of traffic.

She became the most famous ballpark architect of the time. When Lucchino moved on to join the Boston Red Sox, he brought Smith along. Fenway Park was an iconic old stadium that was either in need of replacing or a serious remodeling. Under her watch, suites were added, seats were added on the Green Monster and services and concessions were improved. Many feel her ideas have added decades of life to the old ballpark.

From there it was back to Baltimore to freshen up Camden Yards after 20 plus years in service. Not the major overhaul that Fenway had needed but tweaking some of her earlier work to bring it up to more recent standards.

Stan Kasten had also moved on from Atlanta and was now President of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Dodger Stadium had opened in the early 1960’s but was now the third oldest stadium in use in the major leagues. Kasten wanted the iconic stadium brought up to today’s standards and brought Janet Marie Smith in to accomplish that mission.

On November 5th, she will be at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum to take part in the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi, Women in Sports Day. The event begins at 9:30am and runs till 11am. We encourage ladies of all ages to attend to learn of the many ways they might impact their favorite sports. Meet a Mississippi legend and enjoy the conversation on Women in Sports Day sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi.

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