SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40

Tom Proebstle


By Don Muret      
Staff writer

Tom Proebstle
Age: 38
Titles: Partner and design director
Company: Crawford Architects
Education: B.A., architectural studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1991; masters in architecture, UW-Milwaukee, 1993
Career: Was a designer for Ellerbe Becket from 1994-2001; became associate shareholder for Ellerbe Becket in December 2000; became founding partner for the U.S. office of Crawford Architects in 2001.
Last vacation: Breckenridge, Colo.
Last book read: "Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing" by Harry Beckwith
Last movie seen: "Capote"
Pet peeve: Over-promising and under-delivering
Greatest achievement: The opportunity to work on Conseco Fieldhouse and Fenway Park
Great disappointment: Not winning the Sprint Center arena project in Kansas City. I believe we had a unique opportunity.
Fantasy job: Designing a landmark building in my hometown of Minneapolis
Business advice: What are you waiting for? Life is short.

Crawford Architects designer Tom Proebstle has a great opportunity to live up to his hometown legacy in the Twin Cities. The only question is whether the public that has enjoyed his family's work for almost 80 years will give him the chance.

H.N. Leighton, Proebstle's great-grandfather, owned a construction company in Minneapolis that built the Foshay Tower, the first skyscraper built west of the Mississippi River, and the Basilica of St. Mary — two of the city's most recognizable landmarks.

"When I was young, my grandmother used to take me downtown and we'd spend the day shopping and she would show me the projects he completed," Proebstle said.

Now, the great-grandson could realize his dream to create a destination showpiece in the upper Midwest, but it's out of his control. The Minnesota Vikings hired Crawford Architects to design a $675 million retractable-roof stadium as the franchise continues its long quest to secure public financing to help fund the project.

The Vikings have been trying for more than 10 years to move out of the publicly owned and operated Metrodome and into a new building where the team controls the revenue streams. Zygi Wilf, the Vikes' new owner, is the latest to take a stab at it.

"We're on our third [Vikings] owner," Proebstle said, alluding to the relationship he and Crawford partner David Murphy established with the NFL franchise in the mid-1990s while working at Ellerbe Becket.

Proebstle spent eight years working for Ellerbe, one of the most established sports architects, being part of the design team that planned the Indianapolis Pacers' Conseco Fieldhouse and the updating of Green Bay's Lambeau Field. The sports industry hailed the designs, and NFL teams renovating stadiums are using the Packers' venue as a model for their efforts to develop new revenue.

Proebstle acknowledges taking a chance in 2001 when he departed the firm, where he had become an associate shareholder.

"The ability to go in with a [relatively] new firm and start fresh in the sports architecture world had to be extremely difficult," said Justin Sell, associate athletic director at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, where the Crawford-designed McLeod Center arena opens in November.

But Crawford principal Stacey Jones, a friend and colleague of Murphy dating to graduate school, gave them an offer they couldn't refuse, and they opened the doors to Crawford's U.S. office.

Besides the Vikings, Proebstle has worked on Qwest Field's club lounge development for the Seattle Seahawks and two arena projects, a 12,000-seat facility opening in May in Auckland, New Zealand, and the 6,000-seater at UNI.

Crawford also has completed initial designs for the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis as the school stands in line with the Vikings and MLB's Twins to build new facilities.

The smaller schools such as Northern Iowa appreciate the undivided attention a smaller firm such as Crawford can devote to their facility projects, according to Sell.

"The thing I like about Tom is when I'm talking to him on the phone, I don't feel like I'm on the clock," Sell said.

"We're never going to pretend we're going to get as big as HOK," Proebstle said. "I hope we're just as successful."

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