SBJ/July 30 - August 5, 2001/This Weeks Issue

K.C. firms in fight to build Mizzou arena

Architectural firms are waging a fierce battle to design a $75 million arena for the University of Missouri, not for the billing, but for the bragging rights.

Mizzou is two hours up the highway from Kansas City, which happens to be the center of the sports architecture world.

Three decades after sports facility design first became a specialty with development of side-by-side stadiums for the Royals and Chiefs, seven companies now have sports architecture practices based in Kansas City, including the three largest in the world — HOK Sport, HNTB and Ellerbe Becket.

Thus the Missouri arena contract becomes a matter of serious professional pride, among other things.

"It's one of those deals where everybody knows everybody else," said Frank Scicchitano, a senior project designer at Ellerbe Becket who's worked at HNTB, Ellerbe, HOK and now Ellerbe again.

Scicchitano laughs when discussing the revolving door that brings so many sports-minded architects to Kansas City and then spins them from job to job.

How crazy can it really be?

Well, Scicchitano worked on Washington Redskins projects during tenures with three Kansas City companies.

"You wind up with friends at all the other places, and obviously, some people that aren't quite as close," he said. "But you'd better be careful who you trash, because he might be your boss tomorrow."

As interconnected as these gangs of sports venue architects might be, however, they're still fiercely competitive. Pals are careful what they say at neighborhood outings or softball games, lest they leak information about, oh, a stadium design job coming up for bid.

And now here comes the battle for Missouri, with five Kansas City firms firing all guns.

So far, Ellerbe Becket, HOK Sport, CDFM2 Architecture Inc., Heinlein Schrock Stearns and DLR Group Sports & Entertainment all have stated flat-out they're interested in designing the arena.

This deal is special.

"It's a home-state project for all of us," said Randy Bredar, a principal at CDFM2. "That's going to make it very competitive and very interesting."

Gene McArtor, MU's senior associate director of athletics, said requests for qualifications will be mailed to experienced firms throughout the country in early August.

Ellerbe Becket enters the battle with one huge advantage — a design in hand.

The firm drew up plans for a proposed MU arena once before, but the project stalled in 1997 when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. heiress Nancy Laurie and her husband, Bill, withdrew $10 million they had pledged. That design is what the school has paraded around to promote the new arena concept.

So does that give Ellerbe Becket the crucial edge?

Maybe.

MU plans to stick pretty closely to the conceptual look of Ellerbe Becket's design, McArtor said, but the school intends to start from scratch in its search for an architect.

Still, Ellerbe Becket did renovations to MU's Memorial Stadium, including adding a new press box and suites last year and updating the facade, signs, concessions and concourses in 1997.

Nothing is guaranteed, however.

"Certainly, we'd hope that the work we've done at Missouri would position us well, but clearly you can't expect to win a project based solely on what you've done in the past," said Stuart Smith, Ellerbe Becket's director of marketing communications.

But nobody is conceding.

The design specs will change, for one thing. McArtor said office and team spaces will be enlarged from the previous plan.

"We've let [MU] know we're very interested in being considered to design it," said Jim Edson, senior associate and project manager at HOK Sport.

HOK also can point to previous work with MU, having designed improvements to the athletic offices as well as to some players facilities.

Some of those familiar Kansas City relationships may come into play, too.

Tom Waggoner and Randy Bredar, former principals at Ellerbe Becket, started the sports practice at CDFM2 10 months ago. Bredar said he and Waggoner led the work Ellerbe did for MU, including the previous arena designs.

CDFM2 also has two projects going at MU: an expansion of the team store at Memorial Stadium and construction of indoor courts for the tennis team.

Meanwhile, an HOK Sport/CDFM2 partnership recently won a project for improvements to the University of Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium.

Would HOK and CDFM2 consider joining forces again to go after the MU arena?

Both firms say anything's possible.

Even the unthinkable, if you believe McArtor, who insists Mizzou actually might end up choosing an out-of-state company.

"We will certainly be looking real, real close at major Missouri firms," McArtor said, "but we're going to make the selection based on who will do the best job for us."

Ellerbe Becket's Smith said he doubts MU will have to look far.

"We want Missouri to have the best possible facility," Smith said, "and we know the best facilities are designed here in Kansas City."

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