SBJ/May 28 - June 3, 2001/Facilities

Sound design will give Invesco that Mile High rumble

Architects are accustomed to special demands when designing a big-time sports facility — unobstructed outside views of local landmarks, preservation of historic clock towers and everything in between.

One thing most requests have in common, however, is that they involve something the public will see.

The design-build team of Turner Corp. and HNTB ran into a completely different situation when putting together plans for the Denver Broncos' $384 million new stadium, Invesco Field at Mile High.

They were told in no uncertain terms that the place had to sound right.

One distinguishing characteristic of old Mile High Stadium was the ear-shattering noise that came from fans' stomping their feet, which caused the mostly steel structure to rumble so loudly that the pounding could be heard a mile away.

The Broncos called that racket "Rocky Mountain Thunder," and plenty of opposing players admitted it gave them everything from pounding headaches to problems calling plays.

So one of the first things club owner Pat Bowlen demanded from designers and builders of Invesco Field was that they figure out how to bring that same kind of decibel level from the old joint into a state-of-the-art structure.

"The unique noise feature is a stadium trademark," Bowlen said.

Almost all newer stadiums are built using precast seating units, so the Turner-HNTB group reached into its bag of tricks and put thunder-producing steel risers in seating areas — this in a facility consisting of so much concrete.

The structural engineering firm on the job, Houston-based Walter P. Moore, also had to strike a balance in stiffness to allow foot-stomping vibration — the obvious goal — yet prevent what amounted to rhythmic dancing, which could have caused an earthquake-like sensation producing serious fan discomfort.

Tests have proved successful, and Broncos opponents aren't likely to get much relief when they visit the new stadium.

"If anything, I think the noise level actually might be louder than at old Mile High, because the way the new stadium is designed, it's enclosed in a way that should hold in more of the sound," said Emil Konrath, managing director of Turner-HNTB.

Other teams best not toss out those Mile High earplugs.

 THE WEIGHT IS OVER: There are a zillion possible reasons for abandoning or renovating an athletic facility, but North Dakota State University may have stumbled on a new one.

The school needs a serious upgrade at Bison Sports Arena, which was built in 1970 and definitely has begun showing its age.

But the most immediate problem has nothing to do with the fact that the structure is three decades old and a bit frayed at the edges.

No, it's an addition to the arena made just three years ago that has driven athletic department administrators to the point of no return — and put arena renovation on the fast track.

See, when NDSU needed a new weight room, there was space available on the second floor of Bison Sports Arena. So an up-to-date, $450,000 training area — with all the modern whistles and bells — was built to sprawl over 8,600 square feet.

Unfortunately, not much consideration was given to what happens when dozens of athletes begin lifting — then dropping — hundreds of pounds of weights.

Bad news for everyone in the administrative offices downstairs. Lynn Dorn, women's athletic director, said that when the football team was lifting upstairs, the building felt like a war zone.

All that banging apparently was the last straw. The university is looking at plans for a $10 million arena upgrade that would include chair-back bleachers, a new floor, a public entrance area called the Link, renovated locker rooms, office space and, yes ...

A weight room tucked safely away from all those paper shufflers.

  SMALL WORLD: Forgive David Orlowski, head of Ellerbe Becket's sports design group, if he decides to hire a translator sometime soon.

Although Ellerbe Becket has plenty of domestic facility plans in the works, including Charlotte's proposed new arena, the company also is waiting to hear back from principals involved in several international projects.

"Our business is focused primarily in the United States, but we use the company assets we do have overseas to find the type of job that makes sense for us," said Rich Lincicome, the company's CEO. "It so happens that several opportunities have presented themselves in sports."

Ellerbe Becket has offices or representatives in Dubai, Korea and Brazil, for instance.

No shock, then, that Orlowski is waiting to hear back on proposals for designing a multipurpose stadium in Hanoi, a soccer venue in Rio de Janeiro and a basketball arena in Venezuela.

Oh, and with that rep working hard in Dubai and the 2006 Asian Games coming to nearby Qatar, why not make a pitch to design those facilities?

"Sometimes I wonder what language I'll hear in the next phone call," Orlowski said. "Seriously, though, we'd really like to see some of these things pan out and, especially in South America, open the door to more work as the market expands."

On the front burner: a 10,000-seat venue in Porto Ordaz, Venezuela, that would be home to a club in the country's eight-team pro hoops league.

"It would be a fairly basic building, maybe only $30 million to build," Orlowski said.

So why go to all the trouble?

"Hey, there are seven other teams in that same league and they all need arenas," Orlowski said.

If you have news, anecdotes or updates on any sports venue, contact Steve Cameron at

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