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For a snapshot of the state of sports facility development in North America, go back to Dec. 9.
On that day, officials in Edmonton, Sioux Falls and Tampa interviewed architects for arena projects tied to the NHL, minor league sports and college basketball, respectively. But only one of those deals, a $28.5 million renovation of the University of South Florida’s Sun Dome, has the money to move forward. The others, a $400 million facility for the Edmonton Oilers and a $99.5 million arena in South Dakota for basketball, hockey and indoor football, await approval of the taxpayer funding required to build them.
It’s busy, up to the point where the money needs to be in hand.
HNTB’s renovation at Cal
That’s not necessarily an awful thing. One need only look at the 2011 roster of facilities openings — Sporting Kansas City’s $180 million MLS stadium is the only major league facility scheduled to open this year — to see the havoc that the economy has wreaked in the industry.
This year’s dearth of openings can be traced back to 2008, when the financial downturn grabbed hold and wiped out or stalled many projects. When the economy melted down, it burned a hole in the sports facility timeline that has regularly included several major openings every year (see charts).
For example, 2010 had six major league openings — Target Field, New Meadowlands Stadium, Consol Energy Center, Amway Center, Red Bull Arena and PPL Park, plus a college arena in Louisville, KFC Yum! Center, that could easily pass for a pro facility.But those projects for the most part were financed before the recession’s full force was felt or, in the case of New Meadowlands and Red Bull, were financed 100 percent by team ownership.
AECOM ELLERBE BECKET
Aecom Ellerbe Becket’s Barclays Center, going up in Brooklyn, N.Y.
As architects continued laying off designers and putting others on furlough late into 2010, it was a sign that the industry had yet to recover from the slump in development.
“There’s not a whole lot coming down the pike,” said Ken Johnson, executive vice president of Hunt Construction, the firm building the Florida Marlins’ ballpark and Barclays Center, the New Jersey Nets’ new arena in Brooklyn, N.Y.
As if that’s not enough, labor uncertainty in the major leagues has been blamed for a delay in one project, the San Francisco 49ers’ planned stadium in Santa Clara, and others could be affected. In the meantime, pro teams are using architects to help them form comprehensive master plans for developing upgrades to their existing facilities over the next 20 years.
360 Architecture’s remaking of Husky Stadium in Seattle
“A lot of teams right now are wanting to lay the groundwork for when leagues’ labor issues are behind them,” said Paul Griesemer, a principal at Aecom Ellerbe Becket specializing in NFL stadium design. “I don’t know the ins and outs of negotiations but I think a lot of those teams’ revenue streams are being brought into play, so that probably includes what they may have planned for facility upgrades, improvements and planning.”
But go back to Dec. 9, and you’ll see firms are interviewing for jobs, projects are being shaped, contracts are being signed. As the lending and the bond markets get back on their feet and it becomes easier for teams and municipalities to borrow money to pay for sports projects, teams are hiring architects early so they can break ground as soon as the financing falls into place.
Bottom line, it is still an opportune time to build new or renovate if you can scrape together the funding. Materials prices remain favorable because of the lack of construction for all building types, but those record lows won’t last forever, according to contractors.
“I tell my clients to build now because materials are still at the best prices we have ever seen,” Johnson said. “You have to go back six to seven years ago to get these kinds of prices.”
George Heinlein, a principal with 360 Architecture, one of four firms competing for the Edmonton arena deal, said, “The last three months we have seen an uptick in RFPs put out for [designing] facilities.”
“Those projects will get built, but it may be a year or two before they start to get [on track] again.”
Innovations in renovations
Meanwhile, designers look to help teams do more with what they already have, sometimes by cutting parts of it away. In MLB, at least three teams that built ballparks in the 1990s with about 45,000 seats are taking serious looks at how to reduce capacity while generating more revenue, Johnson said. The Baltimore Orioles previously announced their intention to shrink Camden Yards, and the Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies are working with Populous to plan similar seating reductions at Progressive Field and Coors Field, respectively. Kauffman Stadium’s $250 million renovation for the Royals in Kansas City, a Populous/Hunt collaboration completed in 2009, is one project teams are examining for ideas they can use on a smaller scale at their parks.
“We took seats out of Kansas City and the Nationals and Mets both went the other way” with fewer seats in their new parks, Johnson said. “There are opportunities in smaller renovations for teams looking to enhance revenue like we did with the Royals, $10 million, $15 million, $20 million, with a five-year payback. There is some of that happening, we know that. [MLB executive] John McHale told me you have to create demand. If a guy thinks he can walk up and buy a ticket every single night of the week, that won’t work.”
Beyond baseball and the Big Four in general, architects have plenty of activity to focus on in other market sectors. The college space, with dozens of older arenas and stadiums in need of renovations, remains especially bullish, with several projects in development. As is the case in the pros, schools are conducting long-term studies to tie the expansion of their facilities and athletics to the overall growth on campus. For example, Cannon Design completed a master plan for Fairfield (Conn.) University that officials hope will lead to the firm landing the job to design renovations to the school’s arena, lacrosse facility and student recreation center, said Bob Fatovic, a vice president with the firm.
There has been plenty of work to win lately on the design front for individual college projects.
Aecom Ellerbe Becket, architect for Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena, opening Thursday for Ducks’ men’s basketball, won a package deal to design a new 40,000-seat football stadium for the University of Houston and renovate its Hofheinz Pavilion. Nebraska selected HNTB to develop a $56 million expansion of Memorial Stadium as the Cornhuskers push capacity to 90,000 seats, and DLR Group is designing a $160 million city-owned arena in Lincoln for Nebraska’s basketball teams. 360 captured the Husky Stadium renovation in Seattle where the firm’s team beat bids by Populous and HKS by committing to a budget under $300 million. Populous recently won the Sun Dome project in Tampa and is in the midst of a $45 million facelift for Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
“People say don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but I keep saying the basket is so vast,” said Matt Rossetti, president of Rossetti, architect for Florida International University’s $54 million football stadium expansion and a new hockey arena at Notre Dame. “When you look at colleges now, their football stadiums are bigger than the pros and they’re starting to put in just as many amenities. They have a great population with students completely active on the social media scene and tied into the convergence of technology and entertainment.”
Leaving the country
Populous’ main stadium for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will seat 40,000 and expand to 45,000 for FIFA events.
North American firms are finding work to design new stadiums for World Cup soccer competitions in Brazil and Qatar. In late November, Populous, now doing 50 percent of its business overseas, and NBBJ were among the exhibitors at the Soccerex trade show in Rio de Janeiro, and 360 and HKS had architects attending the event, leading up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. HKS gave a presentation for its deal to renovate Estadio Maracana in Rio and increase seating to 85,000 for World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Ellerbe Becket, strengthened by its 2009 merger with Aecom, now the world’s biggest architecture firm, is involved in the design of 47,000-seat Spartak Stadium in Moscow, part of the 2018 World Cup and the future home of Spartak Moscow soccer. Also in Russia is Populous’ design of the main stadium for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a 40,000-seat facility that can expand to 45,000 for FIFA events. Completion is set for 2012.
Photo by:360 ARCHITECTURE
The multiproject Basra Sports City development in Iraq is keeping 360 Architecture busy, and Populous is bidding to develop a 100,000-seat stadium in Baghdad.
Iraq is also poised for growth in sports as that country rebuilds itself after war. Two years ago, 360’s Heinlein, designer of New Meadowlands Stadium, started planning a $1 billion, multi-venue sports complex in Basra for the 2013 Gulf Cup, a project that other American architects turned down because of safety issues as well as bad experiences from not getting paid for their designs in the Middle East.
For 360, the risk paid off. Basra Sports City’s first phase is under construction, a 65,000-seat stadium, a smaller 10,000-seat outdoor venue, four practice fields, an athletes village and VIP guest house for visiting dignitaries from other Gulf nations. As the project enters phase two to build three small arenas and a 10,000-seat outdoor tennis facility, 360 is now competing in Iraq to build a pair of 30,000-seat soccer stadiums. Populous, meanwhile, was waiting to hear in early January whether it won a job to develop a 100,000-seat stadium in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.
“There is definitely more work in Iraq beyond these projects,” Heinlein said. “The Ministry of Sport has a representative in each province in charge to upgrade facilities and their goal is to build 12 to 17 soccer stadiums.”
HKS is making inroads in motorsports after announcing in November it is teaming with Germany-based Tilke GmbH to develop a new Formula One racetrack on a 900-acre property southeast of Austin, Texas. It could open more doors in racing for HKS after the firm designed an 18,000-seat expansion at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. In the early stages of track development, HKS is looking at adapting what it did with SRO platforms in the end zones at Cowboys Stadium and outfield berms at spring training and minor league baseball parks.
“A lot of people that attend F1 racing like to find a spot around the 3 1/2-mile track and hang out all day,” said HKS principal Mark Williams. “The neat thing about racing is you have a much larger canvas to work with.”
Rossetti, designer of the two latest MLS facilities, has expanded its reach beyond the traditional arena and stadium market with deals to improve a few NASCAR facilities after designing 30 pit row suites at Michigan International Speedway, racing’s version of the event-level premium experience now common in the ball-and-stick sports. It’s all about providing an extra “wow” factor for those patrons paying the most money to attend a sports event, Rossetti said.
“That’s the hot ticket now,” Rossetti said. “Instead of these exclusive, quiet areas [in the skybox], take them down into the bowels of the building and expose them to the players. We took the same concept of bringing the patron together with the drivers and the teams. Instead of putting hospitality up in the stands, we created a stand-alone building inside of the track adjacent to pit row. It’s an excellent opportunity for families and people you’re entertaining to mingle before the race.”
At the National Tennis Center in New York, home of the U.S. Open, the solution to providing a unique experience for the fans meant going up in the air instead of down on the court. Rossetti’s master plan for the facility includes building catwalks above the courts for the players to walk from one competitive venue to the next.
“The big deal in tennis is security after the Monica Seles incident [in 1993] ... being able to elevate them on a walkway connecting them from stadium to stadium so fans can see them,” Rossetti said. “We envision all of this going at different levels instead of putting them on a cart with [large] security guards around them.”
In secondary markets such as Sioux Falls, there continues to be a need to build new minor league arenas to replace 50-year-old buildings. Evansville, Ind., opens a new 11,000-seat arena in November, a $127 million facility designed by Populous and built by Hunt to replace 49-year-old Roberts Stadium. Elsewhere, Allentown, Pa.; Richmond, Va.; and Savannah, Ga., all have plans for similar projects but with no set timetable until financing is secured.
“That’s a growth spurt we’ve seen, although you have to do four of those jobs to equal one major league sports job,” Johnson said. “You need a lot of those to make up for the loss of the larger projects and that makes it tougher to compete.”
But at the tail end of the recession, you can’t be too choosy, and the smaller markets continue to provide opportunities for work. Populous arena designer Brad Clark wound up in Sioux Falls on that Thursday in December and found himself on the road again four days before Christmas. This time, he flew from Kansas City to icy Indianapolis to interview for a potential $40 million to $50 million face lift of Pepsi Coliseum, an old airplane hangar-shaped, junior league hockey venue on the state fairgrounds built in 1939.
“I’m out there trying to find us our next arena project,” said Clark, now free to pursue deals after serving as Amway Center’s lead designer. “I can’t tell you right now there’s an immediate prospect.”
• Can you give us the state of sports facility design? Where are the jobs? Where are the opportunities?
MATT ROSSETTI, Rossetti: We’re looking at opportunities in a lot of underperforming venues. We have [as an industry] been a part
JON NIEMUTH, Aecom Ellerbe Becket: I think there are two areas we call high-growth sectors. It’s domestic, collegiate in 48 states, and then World Cup and Olympics.
JOE DIESKO, HNTB: That’s where we are, too: collegiate/higher ed. There’s a lot of things just sitting out there waiting for some donors to come in, and I think it will happen. … We’re doing Berkeley’s huge [football stadium] project, over $400 million.
• Marc, from the owner’s side, what do you see out there?
MARC FARHA, Icon Venue Group: I think we’re really seeing a lot of potential opportunities in major renovations. Sort of building on what Matt just said, we have some underperforming facilities that came online, 15, 17, 18 years ago. Target Center, for example, is trying to line up some pretty major funding towards a major renovation for that facility, and some others, too, as well.
• What are some of the new trends you’re seeing on the design and development stage? What seems to be out there that’s intriguing to the teams and the owners and the facilities?
TOM PACI, Turner: We’re seeing a lot of emphasis on revenue generation … where that stuff is thought out earlier, before it’s
ROSSETTI: On the negative side, we’re seeing where a lot more owners are aware of venues. They start picking and choosing like a Chinese menu — design a power suite there, maybe a loge box there — and I think that’s dangerous. It’s a perfect way to get a camel instead of what you set out to create and design.
• So why is it so dangerous though? In terms of you just don’t follow a master plan?
ROSSETTI: I think typically … we set up a concept … a driving force for design, usually revolving around something that has cohesion to it. If you just start plopping in things that look good or something that happened to be what the last arena did, it may or may not have any relationship or relativity to where the design is going. And I don’t just mean design based on aesthetics, I mean design based on business guidelines, ROI, all the parameters.
• Other thoughts on some of that?
DIESKO: You talk about revenue — this whole business exists because of revenue; it doesn’t exist because they want cool stadiums.
FARHA: I don’t know if this is necessarily a trend, but we have a number of clients who come to us who, obviously, are trying to work in a very difficult … economy, and they say, “How can I get a new stadium for less than a billion dollars?” or “How can I get a new arena for less than $500 million?
• Does that mean building smaller?
FARHA: Not necessarily. I think right-sizing it and working hard up front on programming is a key in doing the preconstruction phase. I think too many times we fall into the square-footage trap and we try to do square footage times the cost and try to figure out that way. I’m not necessarily in agreement with that. You have to work hard on what the programming needs are. … You don’t have to have a 2.5 to 3 million-square-foot stadium when you can do it for 1.7 [million] or 1.9 [million] and still provide all the revenue streams and provide all the opportunities and spaces the team needs.
• So what gets cut at that level?
FARHA: Levels. It could be levels. You know, maybe it’s not two levels of suites, maybe it’s one level. It’s not four concourses, it’s
• And that saved roughly how much?
FARHA: We have one main concourse and the upper’s just basically for suites. I don’t remember the dollars.
ROSSETTI: I think his point about using square footage, the levels and things like that, is that you’re not going to get it out in finishes, you’re not going to get it by tweaking things at the end, you get it by cutting big chunks of square footage.
PACI: It goes back to the way the owner chooses to let the project through. I think all the stuff Marc’s talking about is done in preconstruction. You’ve got everybody on board — designers, managers, contractors, food service consultants — everybody’s there together working on one goal, and that’s to satisfy the owner’s needs with a program. That’s when you will save money. You never take it out of the efficiencies. Those early days, that’s when the job is headed for success or not.
• We just have one project opening next year at the major league level. The Marlins open up the year after. We’re getting close to full build-out in terms of the Big Four. Where do you see it headed for next year and the next two- to three-year period?
EARL SANTEE, Populous: For our practice, 50 percent of our work is outside the United States, whether it’s Canada or Central [or]
• Bill, you have that deal over in Iraq, breaking new ground there.
BILL JOHNSON, 360 Architecture: That was interesting for us. We didn’t go there because we were needed to. I think it was more a unique opportunity. We’re really pretty busy still with the local market, but as Earl said, it’s mostly with renovation, with repurposing buildings and sort of reallocating different seats and qualities of seating and those kinds of things in existing buildings and stadiums. We’re still seeing a lot of that. On the college side, we’re seeing some nice projects come down. We recently got the University of Washington [football] project, a big one in terms of stadium design.
TIM CAHILL, HNTB: For us, we’re happy that we’re doing well with Michigan and the 49ers at the same time. Michigan’s done and we’ll see what happens with the 49ers. We’re still confident it’ll go through and it’ll happen. We did get a good win at Nebraska
• We were talking about the differences in the premium and the suite level. What kinds of trends are you seeing at that level? What are owners looking for in the premium levels specifically?
PACI: I think Joe brought up a good point about being closer to the action. That’s a trend that we’re seeing. That’s where the real money is as far as return goes. I know that in ’92 down in Cleveland, which is now Quicken Loans [Arena], they put suites in the middle of the bowl, which was kind of a new innovation at the point. Now we’re seeing more of the bunker suites right down on the floor.
ROSSETTI: One of the things that we’re seeing that’s interesting is the old idea of having the suites and the premium seats exclusive, tucked away on this private level. Now it’s putting them down in the bowels of the building so that they’re close to the players, close to the coming and going before game, after game, that seems to be real, brings a lot of money to those clubs. Get a lot of intermingling as those folks come and go. We’re not just seeing it in arenas, we’re seeing it in sporting events like USTA and NASCAR.
JOHNSON: It’s interesting because … a little trend I’ve noticed is that this era of opulence is over. I think people want something that’s more experiential and more in the moment and in the event, so we’re really seeing a shift sort of away from being in the box and all enclosed.
NIEMUTH: The business model doesn’t necessarily translate premium product to premium product. What you can get for a loge box
DIESKO: There’s only so many good locations for driving the revenue for those up because you know you’re always going to sell 50-yard-line seats.
FARHA: One of the negatives to that is how you deal with that design and how you have so much in the center, the 50-yard line. In some of our recent projects, [most amenities] are on the ends, so for the rest of the bowl, for the rest of the public … those straightaways in the concourse where you have a club are dead during the event, they’re really just a pass-through area. I know that’s one of the things owners have expressed to us is how to reactivate those areas and spread things out, not try to take everyone to the end and shove them into those spaces.
SANTEE: So you’re asking us to predict market? It’s less predictable now than it’s ever been. Obviously you look at the firms, the firms that would be hired to do market studies. Where are they today? The market’s changed dramatically for them.
FARHA: Our clients are almost acting as the developers, and with that mentality, they’re not just an owner of a professional sports team.
SANTEE: That’s right. In fact, I think most teams have taken over [the] market analysis process. Ten to 20 years ago a lot of firms did market analysis that defined what suite sales and club seats and price points would be. How much saturation they would get in a certain market. That’s all changed. Completely.
• What’s the legacy of that point you made in terms of these clients’ teams becoming like accidental developers? What’s going to be the end result of that?
SANTEE: I think you’ll see that they’ll continue to incubate ideas. It’s almost like you’re bringing a new business enterprise into a place to begin with. So to me, committing an idea, no matter where it fits in the design process, the construction process or the sales process, it should be the right idea because it may reinforce their brand or their image within the community that they’re going to do whatever they can to make the best, most valuable experience for their customer. I don’t want to [design] the same building I did last year over again. And I think in the client’s mind, they don’t want to do it either. There’s a little bit of a formula in the sight lines and a few other things, but there isn’t much. … I think that’s why incubating the ideas is important. And they may fail. Listen, there’s nothing wrong with failing with an idea. Seriously. Because at least you know. The question is how much you invest in an idea before you fail.
JOHNSON: One I can throw out is trying to create a bigger value around sponsorship, not so much naming rights, but sponsors you
• Would any of you have thought we would be sitting here in December 2010 and neither Cowboys Stadium nor New Meadowlands Stadium would have a naming-rights partner?
SANTEE: If you’d asked us in 2006, we’d say you’re crazy.
ROSSETTI: But it makes perfect sense today.
• What have you seen in terms of the changing dynamics of the naming-rights market?
NIEMUTH: The consumer’s relationship to the brand is a lot more important today than it used to be. My relationship with my phone provider … it means a lot more now than it did 10 years ago. It’s not just about putting Verizon signs everywhere. Verizon cares very much about your experience as a potential customer. Influence, how is that presented, does the technology work, it’s so much bigger of a deal that the risk is even higher than just writing a check. But the thing that the technology does is again … the digital signage allows us to be so much more transparent. I’m still amazed at just the raw number of signs at Meadowlands they switch in and out. Maybe that’s cost management, but you’d think you’d be able to completely “chameleon” that building.
JOHNSON: But you know what, Jon, there’s this sort of “We’re losing that tactile, kind of real part of the buildings,” because everything is so digital now that it’s almost off-putting. I think that some of those decisions about, “OK, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to pull the Giants banners down and hang the Jets banners up” is because they wanted real banners. And that’s kind of a balancing act right now because I do think we’re getting inundated.
NIEMUTH: I went to the Chiefs-Packers game [at Arrowhead Stadium] and Kansas City put its Hall of Honor on the LED board and I’m like, “Really?” But if you look at the opportunities within the building, it goes back to revenue. That revenue is real, there’s minimal opportunities and we’ve got to capitalize it. So now we’ve taken our hall of honors and made it digital. I don’t like it as a fan, but I understand it because sitting on the other side of it, I’m like, well, where else are you going to put it?
SANTEE: Naming rights are still there.
• You mean the market’s still there.
SANTEE: It’s just a different market. Target Field we just opened this year. You know, [Target] came in early, they were involved in the design process. New Marlins is going out heavily for a [naming-rights] sponsor. It’s still there. We had Aviva Stadium in Dublin. I mean, it’s still there whether it’s domestic or internationally. It’s just a different market. It’s “Can I get a billion dollars in one place?” I think the culture of the naming-rights partner with the team and the facility has to be imbedded, they have to be connected. And if they’re not, it’s tough.
• Is it there at the collegiate level?
NIEMUTH: Yeah. We look at a deal, part of our [University of] Houston thing, is to look at the last 10 collegiate arena and stadium naming-rights deals and it’s just amazing how many of them were in the $100 million range. That’s big money.
• One of the themes you said earlier was recharging an old building. What are some of the things you’re able to do in the renovation stage right now that either catches owners’ attention or is really working in terms of renovating facilities?
ROSSETTI: Somebody said earlier that flexibility, being able to convert these spaces that were once just sectioned-off suites, when you can turn it into a big club, a huge club, a club with a couple of suites. … Also, the in-bowl loge products seem to be very hot right now. Most folks, we talked about this, try to get out of that box, the enclosed glass box and bring it down into the bowl. That’s real successful and it’s pretty easy to do because these things are just made out of concrete. It’s not real big surgery.
• What about the idea of nightclubs? You’ve got Orlando Amway Center, you’ve got Staples Center. These nightclubs that are open when there’s no event going on, extending the life of the facility, driving revenue.
ROSSETTI: Not too many successful ones.
We’re looking at Ford Field in Detroit, where we did the stadium and connected it to about a million-square-foot warehouse that had been Hudson’s Warehouse, an icon in Detroit, and they’ve still never filled it up. They’ve still got half a million square feet of vacant real estate in there and we’re looking right now at converting a big chunk of it into indoor tailgating for the event. There’s been sort of a resurgence of hip hop and dance clubs in the downtown core. It’s a very simple space; it’s warehouse space right now. No need to dress it up very much for the tailgating. You certainly don’t need to dress it up for a dance hall, so we’re looking at trying to get some of these dual uses out of the building. And in the hopes of creating some of that Wrigley Field legacy so the people have more of an allegiance to the building, so it’s not just the event-driven allegiance, but it’s non-event-familiarity. We’ll see if that works. It’s going to be kind of an experiment. Once in a while, you’ve got to take a few fliers.
• In Kansas City, you’ve got the Power and Light District that’s started to come together around Sprint Center. Just talk about ancillary development in general, where that’s headed, how the recession has affected that.
SANTEE: When you renovate a building, it’s all about the location. It limits your options. If you’re not downtown where people live, you’re going to have a hard time coming up with ideas that are going to be sustainable on a 365 basis. I mean, that’s just the way it is. Think about it: If you were to build a restaurant in a warehouse in downtown Pittsburgh on the south side, would it be successful? In two or three years, you’ll probably flip it and it’ll be something else. … Before I came to HOK/Populous, I did nightclubs. God, like every two years they flipped because they had to. They were trying to find some cachet to keep people coming and if they didn’t go, they flipped them to something else.
DIESKO: Everybody wanted to re-create Coors Field by putting a stadium somewhere downtown. It was just part of a downtown growing. It didn’t cause it, it just helped it and all that lower downtown stuff helped Coors. It was a symbiotic thing. It wasn’t caused by Coors being there.
ROSSETTI: Four or five years ago, the mentality was condos were so hot, retail was flying, office was OK, hotels were doing great. The ancillary developments were driving revenue that would help support a stadium or an arena in a midsize market. Nowadays it’s the opposite. They are expecting these venues to be the heater, the catalyst to drive revenue. And they do. Joe, I disagree with you a little bit on that, if you look at the increase in property values in almost two years from what Coors did in Denver, it was staggering. The driving up in property value all of a sudden had restaurants popping up, housing, the lofts; that LoDo area just really took off. Of course it’s symbiotic and they go hand-in-hand, but you’ll never have a loft project act as a catalyst for development like an arena or stadium will.
• Will people go downtown for an L.A. Event Center if Tim Leiweke’s plan comes to fruition?
DIESKO: I think so. It really depends on traffic. They gotta figure out how to get people in and out of there.
ROSSETTI: I think they are already used to it now. Staples Center has created an epicenter. L.A. had no depth to it and now it’s there.
• Do you think this project has a real chance of making it?
SANTEE: It’s Southern California, they live and die by the car. It’s not like the East Coast. Mass transit is not that crucial, even though it’s there. We did a building renovation at [Angel] Stadium in 1998, and what did they draw this last year, 3.6 million people, and you drive there. It’s kind of like Dodger Stadium; you drive to Dodger Stadium.
DIESKO: I work in downtown L.A. and live seven miles from there. It’s all about time, it’s not really about how far everything is. It’s about how much time it takes to get in there and get out and get back. In Kansas City, you can go to Target and back in 15 minutes. If you go to Target in L.A., and you live four miles away, it’s an hour or an hour and a half. You learn to manage your time. It’s not about the car or anything else, it’s about time. And it will take a lot less time for the big-money people to go to a game in downtown L.A. than it would be in City of Industry.
• All your firms are doing college work, and the big challenge is how to finance arena and stadium renovations. Bill, you have Husky Stadium, about a $300 million renovation. Talk about that project a little bit and what the challenges are there to finance. I know that was a big struggle for them.
JOHNSON: The thing I think is interesting, for those of us in the business, is that we had to take the project pretty far down the road to get quantifiable costs. What’s the exposure for the university before they were even willing to vote on it for final approval? All I can say is that they have tried to do it for long enough that I think they kind of knew and circled the threshold of pain [before] to the market. They came back and said, “This is absolutely all we can spend, this is all you can design toward, and by the way, you have to have enough of that work done so that we don’t misjudge this.” I think once they saw enough of the work and economized in certain places, they were able to go back and vote with confidence that they could get it done. There’s a few donors, too, that stepped forward. Those big projects in the college market are kind of rare because those are the challenges.
• What are your international clients asking you in terms of the buildings they see here to incorporate over there? In some respects, they’ve been on the cutting edge with technology such as access control. But in terms of the premium amenities, they are behind us.
ROSSETTI: Some of the work that we’ve done in Asia, there’s nothing around, so they like the most phenomenal iconic designs that really focused on buildings that set a precedent. Europe to me feels like where we were in the ’80s when our buildings were big concrete hulks, they were run by municipalities, owned by municipalities, terrible patron treatment and amenities. Yet most of the buildings in Europe are done by some superstar designer, they have beautiful aesthetics but they don’t work for shit. It’s a great opportunity for U.S. designers to provide fan comforts, introduce hospitality, the ROI issues we all talk about.
JOHNSON: It really depends, because it’s less about what we’re doing here in the States and more about what the culture is in the country you’re working in. The case in point with the work we’re doing in Iraq right now, and we’re also pursuing two more soccer stadiums there. That’s more emotional than it is about performance or cost or financing. Religion and the culture and the customs and traditions of Iraq are all in that. It’s not about the revenue or premium seating, that’s not really relevant. But it’s emotionally very relevant. Just to even do a very basic building for them is a symbol of civic pride.
SANTEE: I think the legacy project is the term we’ve coined for these types of projects. We’re doing Sochi, Russia’s [2014 Winter Olympics] stadium. It’s the same kind of ideas. You leave them what they need. The need is culture … every region is completely different. … What’s interesting about [2022 World Cup host] Qatar is there are a lot of fabulous-looking buildings. But I look at them and say, “Do they look like they belong in Qatar?” That’s what I question. Are they buildings of that community, sustainable, something that represents them long term, what they want it to be? I think it’s tough for us as designers that design stuff somewhere else and plop it down there and say, yep, this is good enough. I don’t think it’s good enough anymore, not in most countries.
DIESKO: Thirty-five years ago, we were all talking about toilet counts and sight lines. Now we talk about everything about revenue and the culture of what we do and the culture of America and the culture of football. It’s all kind of grown together, but you don’t just translate that to another country.
SANTEE: What’s interesting in Europe is they see these jobs as regeneration projects. In Iraq, it’s a regeneration of a country or a city. It’s not a one-project deal, it’s building housing, a transit station, everything else that makes it work. You look at the greenfield sites in China and Brazil and even India, it’s more than just that one building. It has to be, there’s nothing there. So we have to create a place for them.
• We didn’t talk about China. Is that the next great frontier? [Mich Sauers, Comcast-Spectacor senior vice president of business development] said China wants to build 1,000 arenas — smaller ones with 5,000 to 10,000 seats — in the next 10 years. That’s mind-boggling.
SANTEE: It’s definitely interesting. I’m reading a book right now called “Global Design,” and it’s not about architecture as much as it is about all the stuff that connects design to the world. Us Westerners think of ourselves of being at the forefront of all these things but we’re not. It’s pretty damn interesting how the world is changing around us and without us. They’re kind of doing their own thing. If you work in China or Japan, the famous thing is they get you in there and you work with a certain design institute and then they kind of all say well, we can do the design ourselves, we’ve learned from the Americans, we don’t need you anymore.
• So you’re saying you will get shut out of that work?
SANTEE: We’re doing work in China, but it’s not the panacea that you may think it is. It’s different politics, different culture, what they expect from us is different.
• Back over here, what are teams telling you regarding developing a facility that can last 50 years instead of the traditional 30-year lifespan? Is that a concern? Do teams think about that at this point?
DIESKO: Cities are requiring LEED certification more and more. In California, you don’t even think about it, you’re going to have to do it at some high level, silver or gold. LEED revolves around sustainability, reusability of materials. Whether owners want it or not, you have to do it.
FARHA: I think it’s possible. It’s just a lot of hard work that you have to do up front to make good sound decisions from a materials standpoint, equipment, flexibility, all the things we talked about in the course of this discussion. But it’s certainly possible to do that. You have to plan along the way for some major renovations, similar to what Madison Square Garden is doing. It’s almost 50 years old from its first build to now. It’s probably close to that.
PACI: We are going through a major, major renovation [at MSG], changing the rakers in the upper bowl; the whole upper bowl will be demolished. We’re keeping the circle of the building the same; we’re not expanding the footprint. But we’re trying to get everything accomplished we can by redesigning the upper bowl. But it’s a major thing in keeping it open for the Rangers and the Knicks.
DIESKO: But it’s not because of concrete wearing out or something’s leaking. It’s because they need to make more money. It’s back to the revenue. People say you design these buildings for 20 years and then you throw them away. We don’t throw them away and we don’t design them to be thrown away. We’re renovating Cal Memorial Stadium, it’s 87 years old, and if it wasn’t for seismic reasons, we probably wouldn’t be doing it, it would be another 87 years. So they’re taking advantage of the fact that they have to because it sits on a fault.
JOHNSON: Owners are now more accountable and more of their money is invested and they are more savvy about what they want. I think what will drive the ultimate lifespan of the buildings is how much flexibility and how nimble they can be in the marketplace. Because honestly, we’re not building as many permanent walls or trusses that have to be taken down and redone. We’re building as much flexibility in as possible, because they want to be able to be agile enough if the market changes in 10 years and all of a sudden people want loge boxes and not suites, they can move and adapt to change. That’s going to ultimately drive the life of the building. It’s not the construction or even the sustainability, although I think that’s really important and we have a responsibility to put that agenda out there.
DIESKO: We need to think about this as the right solution at the right time, but they are still going to renovate buildings, they never stop. Look at airports, they continually add gates, move concessionaires or different ways of taking tickets. Everything about it evolves.
PACI: Look at the Kansas City Chiefs. Classic bowl inside, great seats, great sight lines. It was built [in the ’70s]. If you have a good structure, good bowl, good sight lines, it can last as long as you want.
• Jon, you had a part in designing Matthew Knight Arena [at the University of Oregon], which has no suites. Is there flexibility to add premium if the demand is there?
NIEMUTH: It goes back to some of the conversations about what do you value in the experience, and for them at that building, the last 50-plus years going forward they were a basketball school and that’s what they wanted to be about, was basketball. They understood what their pinch point was with premium seating, they knew what their incrementals were and how much revenue they could extract. Suites didn’t pay for themselves financially, but it also compromised the character of what they were leaving [McArthur Court] and what they were moving into, and they said it wasn’t worth it. I’m not saying we didn’t look at them, I’m not saying we didn’t look at it for a long time. But it was never a huge number, it was always six, seven, eight, 10 for a 12,500-seat building. It was a relatively small amount.
DIESKO: [Galen Center, an HNTB project] was designed to put suites on both sides. The donors weren’t that interested in suites at all. USC said our donors don’t really want a suite, they don’t want to have to manage the tickets. They don’t really come to invite their friends up to a suite. Put them in and we might use them for sponsors and stuff and we’ll build half of them.
NIEMUTH: On a Tuesday night in Eugene, who’s going to use a suite? I think that’s where the culture of football and basketball are so much different. Football is still very much a cultural event. They come Thursday, Friday and Saturday and they might make it home by Sunday or Monday. But basketball event days, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday nights depending on where your people are coming from … I think there’s a practicality in the collegiate market that you have to really get your arms around that the leagues don’t have to deal with. It’s a population center, it’s a corporate amenity, it’s a personal amenity. Very few companies can truly write off the value of that suite in a collegiate environment. Is it a trend, I don’t know. It was right for them, but it may not be right for everybody else.
• Bill and Earl, how do we build these sports facilities cheaper? Your firms each had a role in developing a billion-dollar stadium. What’s the answer?
SANTEE: If the client wants it cheaper, I’ll give them a cheaper building, but if the client wants to spend a billion dollars, I’ve learned over 20-some years that I can teach him how to spend his money and I think I spend it pretty well. So it really depends on what they want to try to accomplish.
DIESKO: What works best is having the right expectations for the right amount of revenue you want to produce, but how do you get there? Some clients just think they’re smarter than everybody. If it was only me running the world, everything would be $100 million cheaper, so you spend a lot of time showing what they get for their project and then, well, “We want this though.” Sometimes we’re the bad guys just because we’re there, not because of what we do. It’s just about expectations. Right now, everybody thinks they can build a building really cheap, but labor’s still going up and that’s half the price of a building or more. Materials have gone down but they’re starting to go back up again. We’re bidding a whole bunch of stuff and prices are starting to grow.
JOHNSON: I think owners perceive it, and I certainly do as we look at the challenges of spending the money the right way, all these venues are under siege right now because as we get our superflat HD, 3-D [televisions], opportunities to stay in our own living room with our own home theater and watch the games, the bar continues to go up. What makes it a great experience to come out? The NFL has been really clear about this, is we have to offer an experience that’s second to none, to get the fan experience back to what it should be. … We may start to see these buildings try to not do everything like what we’ve been trying to do for a while. We’re going to start doing less and do it better. So maybe we don’t have the over-the-top kids areas or the over-the-top shopping and eating experience. Maybe it all goes back to the basics, what the venue is really set up to do.
PACI: What about smaller facilities made for TV? You would never do a long [camera] shot, you would have 35,000 people at an NFL game and all they would shoot is the lower bowl, with sound enhancements. That’s ultimately what could happen. There’s nothing worse than in baseball when a guy hits a home run and nobody’s running after the ball because there’s nobody there.
SANTEE: So buildings are getting a little smaller and they’re becoming more customized, but they’re just getting smaller.
DIESKO: Those last 10,000 seats are the most expensive to build … and the hardest to sell.
NIEMUTH: I think it’s interesting on the capacity thing, though, because I think that’s pro exclusivity … eventually the BCS money will find its peak as well. Any school that’s moving around … TCU is a group that’s going through a major expansion, they just announced their alignment to the Big East. Anybody in that conversation right now wants to talk about, show me 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and then maybe 100 [thousand seats]. They don’t want to talk about 40,000 seats. They want to say, “I need a plan. If I’m starting off at 60, you need to show me how to realistically get to 70, 80 and 90,000 seats.” The NFL is not talking about that — [those stadiums have] 67,000, 65,000. It’s a totally different mind-set. If you open a collegiate stadium now for a major big-time school and you said the best I can do is 60,000, you would probably never do another project again.
• If you’re TCU and you’re not a major brand on the college landscape, why would you go out and build 70,000, 80,000 seats? They’re not Texas, where people are going to come regardless. They are not that brand.
NIEMUTH: That’s the interesting thing. You’ve got high schools building 40,000 seats in Texas. That’s Mars in terms of football. It’s kind of like Vegas, you can’t really apply good economics to the state of Texas because they don’t work other places.
DIESKO: Part of what you’re doing is satisfying a lot of people that complain to the AD that they can’t get a ticket. It’s a combination of things that’s driving it in the collegiate market. Like I said, every donor group has a different culture, a different history. It’s just not the same in colleges as it is in the pros.
NIEMUTH: Michigan Stadium … it’s suites and clubs and improved concessions, but it’s not like Cowboys Stadium or New Meadowlands or Lucas Oil Stadium. That’s the other thing you don’t see, the age of opulence [in colleges]. It’s amenities, but it’s well-adjusted amenities.
CAHILL: It’s interesting at Michigan, for the opener we were in a big club space, and for kickoff, everybody was sitting outside. There isn’t anybody in the club. If you were to go to a pro stadium, a lot of people sit inside.
• Matt, your firm has been doing some NASCAR work. At what point do you maybe see some of those facilities start to downsize to fit the market? Has there been any talk of that among the two major groups out there?
ROSSETTI: No, the biggest focus for them is how to corral this hospitality component. At [Michigan International Speedway], we put a new building in the infield and made it part of pit row, so it goes back to that idea of engaging the patrons that are spending all their money either in the suite, club or restaurants, let them wander through pit row.
SANTEE: You know what’s amazing about the sports business: In spite of all the economic downturn we’ve had, the leagues have seen a fairly minute reduction in their attendance, 5 percent, 10 percent. It’s almost like there’s kind of a placeholder, that once times get better, people will come back and try to exceed some of the record attendance over the years. … The one thing that’s got me most interested and I still haven’t figured out how to deal with it, or how to think about it, is really the sign of technology and its impact to the in-game experience. I don’t know how to answer that question.
• At Prudential Center, you can now rent iPads during the game and the Devils have a social media hub with desktops built into a kiosk. Where do you see the role of social media in the whole in-game experience?
SANTEE: I was at the Dolphins-Bears game and got to use that little device [FanVision] that Steve Ross owns. I’m still a fan, so it’s hard ... you’re doing this, then that, wait, I missed all that [action]. It was interesting to do. Could I do it for 10 event days a year or be that active with it? I saw some people use it who were older, they had earphones and they were in the game, completely. It has 10 different camera angles, you’re inside, whether the guy made the catch, had his feet inbounds, before the ref has a chance [to see it on replay].
DIESKO: They’re also telling us in a couple years, it will be light years ahead of that. Right now, we’re in the dark ages … they’re going to be so fast, 100 megabytes per second instead of two.
SANTEE: We’re definitely in an electronic transition. I have a BlackBerry, but I also have a Sprint 4G phone and an iPad and a laptop. Guess what I didn’t bring today? My laptop. Our business depends on people still coming and watching the event.
The economic downturn of the past three years put many sports designers out of work. Others branched out on their own after seeing how the end of the major league building boom was leaving fewer opportunities for the growing number of firms chasing those projects. Following is a look at four designers still working in sports and a fifth waiting to get back in the game.
Hallmark saw where sports facility development was headed a decade before the Great Recession stunted its growth. He formed Future Cities in 2000 after developing sports practices at Ellerbe Becket and NBBJ.
“In my case, we anticipated both the slowdown in pro facilities and the proliferation of architectural firms engaged in what little work existed,” he said. “That sounded like a bad combination to me. I purposely repositioned my work in the last 10 years to move away from big new buildings, which I thought had a limited cycle, and started to look at extensive sponsor-funded renovations at arenas and stadiums. That’s one market, and I think the other one is ancillary and urban development around them to get owners and cities focused on that.”
Hallmark, based in Los Angeles, is working with Arizona State University officials on a study for how to build and finance a new football stadium using tax dollars tied to a proposed 480-acre, mixed-use development in Tempe. In a model similar to tax-increment financing, a large portion of land surrounding campus has been converted into a new Facilities District, with taxes from new development within that area used to fund school programs.
“I think there is going to be a big shift in the future of fulfilling the promise of public investments in these projects and trying to make those kinds of urban locations better and smarter places,” Hallmark said. “That’s a little bit about what’s happening at ASU.”
Proebstle got his start at Ellerbe Becket and was a founding partner for Crawford Architects in Kansas City in 2001 before leaving the firm in February 2009, a decision he said was mutual between him and the company.
In June 2009, Proebstle and Mike Kress, another former Ellerbe and Crawford designer, formed Generator Studio. Together, they have kept busy with several projects outside of sports, completing a master plan to redevelop Dodge City, Kan.’s historic downtown district, designing a new Holiday Inn Express in North Kansas City, creating a second master plan for a potential metal-casting plant to build wind turbines in Chillicothe, Mo., and putting a “spit shine” on a few post-World War II era shopping centers in suburban Kansas City.
At the same time, Proebstle and Kress have kept their sports relationships intact, and it has paid off. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s new ownership group hired Generator Studio to design improvements to the St. Pete Times Forum, details of which team officials are expected to announce this month. Tod Leiweke, CEO of the NHL club and the arena, came from the Seattle Seahawks, for whom Proebstle designed Virginia Mason Athletic Center, the NFL club’s two-year-old practice facility in Renton, Wash.
“On the sports side, we are pursuing RFPs carefully,” Proebstle said. “Honestly, we are not going to sit there and compete with Populous and Ellerbe Becket, but we have relationships in place where we will pursue work. People thought we were crazy for starting our own firm, but we spent a lot of time on our business plan and shared it with a lot of folks with much more expertise than we had. Architects tend to overpromise and underdeliver, and we’ve learned some hard lessons. We’re cautious and taking that extra measure to underpromise and overdeliver.”
Advances in technology tied to architecture have enabled Generator Studio to keep overhead expenses to a minimum, a key tactic for survival during the downturn. For example, Proebstle and Kress found free timesheet software online to track their hours working for a client. At Crawford, a salaried employee was paid to manage that important part of the business, Proebstle said.
“The differences are miles apart with technology,” he said.
Cole, a licensed architect specializing in ballpark design, worked for HNTB and Populous, two of the largest sports design firms, and 360 Architecture, a smaller company, before launching his own practice in January 2008 with partner Devan Case. The early warning signs of the pending recession did not deter Cole from going out on his own. He saw a niche to fill, developing minor league parks, and saw some projects on the horizon that he could pursue.
After securing a 36-month bank loan and a “simple but forward-thinking business plan,” Cole hung out the Pendulum shingle. Three years later, Pendulum’s staff has grown to seven designers. Cole completed the design for a $12 million park in central Illinois that opened in 2010 as the home of the Frontier League’s Normal CornBelters, an independent club, and Heartland Community College’s baseball program. The facility stands out for its dirt-free, synthetic Sprinturf surface.
The Green Bay Bullfrogs of the independent Northwoods League hired Pendulum to develop a $10 million park, pending financing for the project.
Pendulum, after beating out Populous and 360 to win the job in Normal, is going head-to-head with Populous for the job to design a new park for the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers, the Minnesota Twins’ low Class A affiliate.
As teams at the lower levels of sports grapple with the same financial issues tied to new facilities as their big league brothers, Cole sees opportunities to work with those clubs to find new ideas to generate revenue. At the same time he formed Pendulum, Cole started a company called Modular Products that designs temporary loge boxes at a fraction of the cost to produce permanent suites. The $35,000 aluminum structure, packaged with 15 swivel chairs, drink rail, buffet space, mini-refrigerator and roof cover, provides an affordable alternative to spending six figures to build suites in a traditional ballpark setting, Cole said.
Modular Products has seen some traction through a few deals at the minor league level, and in turn, is starting to attract interest from big league teams, Cole said.
Tingle was a vice president at HNTB and leader of the firm’s sports practice when the company laid him off in March. For many in the industry who know the business structure within HNTB, it came as a surprise considering Tingle was the firm’s front man for sports business development, the go-to guy for a company whose name is synonymous with major college football stadium renovations.
Four months later came another surprise. Tingle jumped over to the vendor’s side after landing a job with Intelligent Engineering, a British structural seating manufacturer. It makes what the company describes as a “sandwich plate system,” a seating bowl product with polyurethane wedged between two layers of steel. It’s much lighter and more affordable for teams to install for new construction and renovations than precast concrete structures.
As Tingle weighed his options after HNTB, he thought about where the industry was moving and technology’s role in it. He could have stayed on the design side but the prospect of joining an international company trying to break into North American sports intrigued him.
Intelligent Engineering’s product is being used to build the aquatics center for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, a 15,000-seat facility with two huge wings that can be unbolted after the event, leaving 3,000 to 4,000 permanent seats. Domestically, the firm is targeting a few college projects. The firm submitted a bid to build a structure for outdoor club seats tied to the renovation of Cal-Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium and has talked to University of North Carolina-Charlotte officials about using its product for a new football stadium in development at that school.
“This was an interesting option and a significant challenge,” Tingle said. “In a business development role, it is a challenge to close a deal, but to try to win over an industry that is status quo [for building sports facilities] ... getting them to change their thinking was exciting to me. A number of people questioned my sanity, but I am very passionate about it. We all try to leave our marks on an industry, and I feel very good that this is another way of leaving my mark.”
Hotujac, a veteran sports designer specializing in pursuing major league arena projects, has been out of work since being laid off from Populous in September 2009.
It’s not by choice. Hotujac, after entertaining several offers from other sports architecture firms, had accepted a job with a company and was supposed to start work Dec. 6 until a family health issue involving his girlfriend came to the forefront. Hotujac, who declined at this point to identify his would-be employer, has put that opportunity on hold until her medical issue is resolved.
“I would hate to take something and then not be able to do anything with it,” Hotujac said, referring to his current situation. “I’ve had people pursuing me, which makes me feel good and is flattering, but as of now I couldn’t give it 100 percent.”
There are not many sports design marketers with more valuable contacts than Hotujac. Between his 4 1/2 years at Populous and his previous tenure at Ellerbe Becket, Hotujac was instrumental in signing deals to develop more than a dozen NHL and NBA facilities, most recently Amway Center in Orlando. He was also Populous’ lead marketer for developing KFC Yum! Center, a college basketball arena with pro-style amenities in Louisville, Ky.
“Financially, I’m in a good enough position to afford the luxury to take time off and not get killed [economically],” Hotujac said. “It was tough to lose my job at the time, but I have let the emotions subside. I could see the writing on the wall. At Populous, I was the lead marketing guy for arenas. When business [got] bad, the marketing staff took the hit.”