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Published March 12, 2007
Gerardo Prado's work has helped HNTB win jobs for 10 collegiate facilities since 2003, and his fingerprints are all over buildings for two storied programs — Michigan football and Kentucky basketball.
Not too bad for a sports designer who spent the first 14 years of his life in Latin America before moving to the U.S., and who struggled early in his 11-year career to master the English language and conquer stage fright during client interviews.
Born in Argentina and having lived in Costa Rica and Panama before moving to St. Louis as a teenager, Prado's first love is soccer. But after attending basketball games as a student at the University of Kansas and later visiting other campuses, Prado became a big college sports fan.
"Once I got into college football and got to go to all the games, it was amazing and incredible that there are all these stadiums built [so] long ago," he said.
Prado, who at 35 is the youngest principal at HNTB Architecture in Kansas City, helped Michigan officials in Ann Arbor map out a long-range plan in 2000 to renovate one of those legendary stadiums — Michigan Stadium, college football's biggest facility.
Five years later, HNTB won the job to upgrade and add suites to the 80-year-old building, a $226 million project. The master plan also led to Michigan initiating improvements to Crisler Arena and four other sports facilities.
Then, in Lexington, Ky., Prado played a primary role in developing Joe Craft Center, Kentucky's $32 million basketball practice facility that opened in January, a vital recruiting tool that has set the bar for college basketball's elite.
Rob Mullens, Kentucky's deputy athletic director and project manager for Joe Craft Center, gave Prado an "A-plus" for designing a facility that gives the Wildcats the edge they need to compete for the country's best prospects.
"Gerardo is so client-centered and wants to deliver what you want," Mullens said. "He has a real knack for dragging out of us in his [professional] language what we need."
Prado's design for improving Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium, one of his first sports projects, proposed building 10 suites in each of the four corners, connected to outdoor decks where those premium-seat patrons can party together on football Saturdays.
"It was a big deal to try to sell a vision that they've got suites with a good view at that angle," Prado said.
The corner boxes generate $1.75 million in gross revenue annually, have been sold out since day one with a waiting list, and are the best spots to watch the game, according to Mullens.
"They're mingling, the smoke is coming off from the grills, it's very festive," he said.
Mike Handelman, HNTB's senior vice president and chief sales officer and former sports group leader, gave Prado the opportunity to find his niche in sports design, three months after Prado started working in the company's general architecture division.
"It was a small group back then, 13 to 14 people, and I was put into a position where I got a lot of responsibilities very quickly," Prado said. "The leadership in place was encouraging me."
Handelman added: "From the beginning, I thought he had great charisma and people warmed up to him immediately. There is a real genuineness about him, an enthusiasm I thought was contagious and a marketable trait."
— Don Muret