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SBJ/May 21 - 27, 2007/This Weeks News
Site makes right for 2 newest MLS stadiums
Published May 21, 2007
While riding to BMO Field on a chartered city trolley, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment President Richard Peddie offered an honest assessment of the city’s first soccer-specific stadium and Toronto FC’s new home.
“It’s no-frills,” he said, as he gazed out a window at people walking to the stadium for Toronto FC’s first game. “But what it lacks, it makes up for in location.”
MLSE reviewed three sites before reaching an agreement with the city to build at the site of Exhibition Stadium, home to the Blue Jays before being torn down in 1999. The result is a 20,000-seat soccer stadium that draws on its surroundings in the same way as other modern-day complexes like Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Seattle’s Safeco Field.
With generous views of Toronto’s skyline to the east and Lake Ontario to the south, it offers one of the best views of downtown Toronto in the city.
“You can’t get a view like this anywhere,” said Paul Beirne, Toronto FC’s director of business operations, gazing across the field from the TV booths on the stadium’s west side.
The stadium views are the centerpiece of a complex that is relatively spartan.
In constructing BMO Field, MLSE stuck to a tight budget of $56.9 million — less than half of what will be spent on Red Bull Park in New Jersey. Of that, $40.6 million came from city, federal and provincial governments and $16.3 million from MLSE.
MLSE also faced a tight construction schedule. The organization committed to building the stadium in 16 months, promising to have it ready ahead of the under-20 FIFA World Cup, which kicks off in Canada on June 30.
“I hate to say it, but it had to be a fairly simple design,” said Robert Hunter, MLSE’s executive vice president of venues and entertainment. “Everything had to be fast-tracked.”
The resulting stadium is a mix of precraft concrete stands and aluminum bleachers surrounded by concrete concourses that run past cinderblock walls. Inside, about 8,000 of the seats are plastic bucket seats linked by metal plates to the bleachers. The rest are the more traditional plastic stadium seats held by concrete.
With no more than 42 rows of seats on the split-level west and south side of the stadium and only 33 rows on the east side, the majority of fans are no farther than 127 feet from the field, and no fan is farther than 160 feet.
“The best part is that intimacy,” Hunter said.
One of the most controversial aspects of the construction process was the decision to use FieldTurf instead of natural grass, a first for a soccer-specific stadium in the MLS. MLSE said it had little choice in the matter. The field is scheduled for year-round use and will have a bubble put on it in the winter to allow local recreational leagues to play indoors.
With limited resources for the stadium, MLSE spent much of its energy researching the Toronto market in search of passionate soccer fans. Three million people live in Toronto and the census says 1.2 million were born outside Canada. Many are soccer-savvy expatriates from Northern England, Portugal and elsewhere.
On opening day, MLSE’s research and efforts to turn those expats into patrons appeared to be rewarded when 20,180 fans turned out to see Toronto FC play the Wizards. When Kansas City’s Eddie Johnson gave his team a 1-0 lead in the 82nd minute, he was showered with beer, pennies, peanuts and a water bottle.
It was a moment that reassured many with MLSE that — frills or no frills — BMO Field would become a great home for soccer.
There are 124 points of sale at the stadium, including beer locations, food locations and a combination of both.
Knowing they would have a multicultural crowd, MLSE searched for international food offerings that could be prepared quickly. The result is a concession menu that, in addition to hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza, includes Ye Olde Chip Butty (fresh cut fries between two pieces of buttered bread); chicken roti (curried boneless chicken folded into a wheat flour round); Scotch egg (classic pub sausage shaped into a ball and stuffed with hard boiled egg, shown at left); and the Portuguese cornbread sandwich (traditional grilled cornbread stuffed with hot peppers and goat cheese).
At the north end of the stadium on either side of the Carlsberg Patio sit two buildings for group outings. Each can host approximately 100 people. They cost about $2,700 a game. One is reserved throughout the season by MLSE to host its corporate partners.
The south end of the stadium has 2,600 seats for the most passionate fans. The average ticket price is $13.50 a game.
The building has 30 suites between the first and second deck on the stadium’s west side. The suites accommodate 12 to 16 people and sold out at prices from $22,500 to $36,000 a year. Each suite has its own heating and cooling system, a 32-inch flat-screen TV and a bar with laminate counters. Each also comes equipped with a high round table and chairs and a drink rail against a floor-to-ceiling window that looks over the field. MLSE plans to add six to eight more suites in the offseason. Food options include everything from a New York steak panini and sushi to a Caesar salad and roasted beef tenderloin.
The Rogers Club has no view of the field, but does include an area for more than 300 people to eat, drink and relax. Outside are 530 padded seats for club fans at midfield.
MLSE collaborated with Carlsberg, a stadium and team sponsor, to develop the Carlsberg Patio in the north end of the stadium. The area includes more than 40 green Carlsberg-branded umbrellas and tables where fans can hang out before, during and after the game to eat, drink and watch the action.
DICK'S SPORTING GOODS PARK
HOK Sport’s Jeff Spear can talk tectonics after studying Colorado topography to plan Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, his first soccer stadium design and the first MLS project for North America’s biggest sports architect.
The geological term became the buzzword for the Colorado Rapids’ new facility after team officials Mike Rock and Julie Siebert observed a peaked fence line in Denver.
“They saw the top of the fence … and really latched onto that idea” as a theme for mapping out the $65.4 million facility, Spear said.
More importantly, “Stan loved it,” he said, referring to team owner Stan Kroenke, who also owns the Nuggets, Avalanche, the National Lacrosse League’s Mammoth and a share of the Arena Football League’s Crush.
Kroenke is investing $20 million in cash and guaranteeing $45 million in bonds to help pay for building the stadium in Commerce City, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Denver. His firm THF Realty is responsible for developing up to 1 million square feet of property outside.
The most obvious nod to the rocky region is the unorthodox pitched roof panels, which the club expects to become a stadium icon, a design that Spear developed after playing around with cardboard models.
“Out here on the prairie, we needed some kind of architectural element to draw the eye,” said Jeff Plush, managing director for the Rapids. “It became a signature element.”
The environmental theme extends to the “slanting to the scoreboard and concessions signs and the random-looking patterns in the concrete [structures], the grooves and darker block,” Spear said.
Those design elements were simpler versions of what HOK originally planned to express the region’s environmental characteristics.
“We had a much more expensive solution that included glass panes stacked on top of each other [for the stadium’s exterior wall], but it was expensive and challenging to build,” Spear said.
The challenge for the Rapids is to find additional corporate dollars for the facility outside of the 20-year, $40 million naming-rights deal Pittsburgh-based Dick’s Sporting Goods signed in November and the four other sponsors.
The club anticipates six more sponsors will materialize in the next 60 days, deals that could include naming rights for the Cantina restaurant and five additional gates. Two gates are next to the restaurant and could be part of one sponsorship.
“We are still very much on the front end of the sales process,” Plush said.
The available inventory extends to the 20 suites and 200 club seats, most of which were unoccupied during the May 10 game against Real Salt Lake. There are about eight suites left to lease for long-term contracts and about half the club seats remaining to sell, team officials said.
Standard suites have 16 to 20 fixed seats and sell for $25,000 to $40,000 annually depending on location. Terms are three, seven and 10 years and include tickets to all events. Plush says the Rapids should sell those remaining premium seats in the next few weeks as the club continues to pitch the stadium as a concert venue.
As of last week, Kenny Chesney was the only act booked for the building this summer, but Plush said, “I think once we announce more shows … that will get us over the top, and it will happen before the year is out.”
In the meantime, it’s Rapids soccer that will put people under the stadium’s mountain-range roofs, which were built for more than looks.
The club wanted to heighten its home-field advantage after its experience playing at Home Depot Center and Pizza Hut Park. “It’s really more about noise containment and creating atmosphere than it is anything else,” Plush said.
The facility does not have a dedicated club level. Instead, 200 club seats line the back of the seating bowl and are sold in packages of four chairs and a table, a premium-seat concept that the MLS club adapted from FedEx Forum in Memphis. Foursomes sell for $200 a game near the nets and $240 a game at midpitch. Foursomes in the corners on the south end are reserved for group sales (shown above). “It’s better for social conversation and for doing business than sitting in a row of seats,” said the Rapids’ Jeff Plush.
In addition to naming-rights sponsor Dick’s Sporting Goods, the stadium has four other sponsors, all with 10- to 15-year deals: Coca-Cola, which sponsors concessions at the south end, and HealthOne, which sponsors Gate B on the east side, plus Tecate and Toshiba.
The 20 suites are stacked on two levels on the west side. A party box at the south end of the second floor can accommodate 68 people.
Designing common rest rooms outside the suites allowed HOK to make the boxes bigger and reduce construction costs. The architect made the decision to install windows in the rear of each unit, a rarity in suites, to provide views of the mountains.
The 8,000-square-foot Daktronics scoreboard at the north end contains a 1,210-square-foot, high-definition video screen. The larger-than-life images fill the field of vision for motorists approaching the stadium.
The board’s video component is the same size as the Mitsubishi board at Invesco Field (where the Rapids played the last five seasons), said Charlie Thornton, senior vice president for Icon Venue Group, the owner’s representative. The visual impact, however, is much more dramatic for an 18,000-seat stadium compared with Invesco’s 76,000 seats, Thornton said.
Aramark operates the 300-seat Cantina restaurant at the south end, a space the Rapids are shopping for naming rights. It’s a casual dining atmosphere where Rapids fans can gather at outdoor tables beneath red Tecate-branded umbrellas or sit at the full-service bar inside and watch international soccer on large flat-screen televisions.The concessionaire runs a $3 early-bird beer special for Coors and Coors Light for one hour before kickoff.