SBJ/May 31 - June 6, 2004/Facilities

Hometown firms vie for K.C. arena job

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The $250 million arena proposed for Kansas City, the capital of sports architecture, is an intriguing study of the hometown design firms leveraging their sports, business and political relationships to try to win a prize project in their own back yard.

HOK Sport and Ellerbe Becket, the two largest and most recognized designers of sports venues, combined forces with three smaller firms, Heinlein Schrock Stearns, CDFM2 and Rafael Architects Inc.

Crawford Architects, a 2½-year-old company in Kansas City that includes two former Ellerbe Becket employees, decided its best bet to compete for the contract was to hire acclaimed architect Frank Gehry.

HNTB, another Kansas City design firm, has not been mentioned as prominently as the others but is interested in bidding the project, said Randy Bredar, vice president. HNTB is working for the city to develop a master plan for downtown that includes the arena site.

HOK senior principal Rick Martin, specializing in designing NBA and NHL arenas, started the group of five designers known as the Downtown Arena Design Team, said David Orlowski, managing principal at Ellerbe Becket.

HOK Sport produced the early renderings of the Sprint Center, planned for Kansas City.
The consortium has a Web site,, that is soliciting suggestions for the arena design. The site points out that the individual firms have designed 24 of the last 28 arenas built for the NBA and NHL in the United States.

HOK Sport has worked previously with CDFM2 on two collegiate facilities, Paige Sports Arena at the University of Missouri in Columbia and the renovation of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. This is the first time Ellerbe has partnered with HOK on a sports-related job, Orlowski said.

“In a soft sports economy, it’s been invigorating, because we’re working with different people and in our hometown,” he said. “We’re all focused on what it’s going to take to win it. There’s some pretty stiff competition.”

Brad Schrock, principal at Heinlein Schrock Stearns, added, “The first few meetings were a little surreal, sitting in HOK’s offices. But George [Heinlein] and I are ex-HOK guys, and we worked with them together on Kohl Center [in Madison, Wis.] shortly after we left the firm.”

Crawford used its relationship with A. Zahner Co., a Kansas City-based metals company, to contact Gehry. CEO Bill Zahner knows Gehry and made the call, said Tom Proebstle, a Crawford partner.

Gehry accepted the proposal after visiting Kansas City and speaking with Mayor Kay Barnes.

“Our thinking was, ‘What is it that we can bring to the table that we otherwise might not be able to?’” Proebstle said. “We have the political connections in town, and Frank brings the acumen of a world-renowned architect.”

This would be Gehry’s second arena project. Bruce Ratner, prospective owner of the NBA Nets, hired Gehry to design a facility in Brooklyn.

HNTB, in addition to working on the downtown master plan, is designing renovations for the Bartle Hall convention facility and Kansas City International Airport. “The city has been our client for a long time,” Bredar said.

Proebstle said the project will attract bids from designers that don’t make Kansas City their home, but he acknowledged the mayor would most likely select a designer with local ties.

“Everyone has been given an equal opportunity,” Proebstle said. “[The mayor] is extremely interested in putting Kansas City back on the map, similar to what Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium did 30 years ago.”

The city is expected to begin the bid process in June or July. Sprint Corp., based in suburban Overland Park, has agreed to buy naming rights.

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