SBJ/Jan. 10-16, 2011/In Depth

Firms work hard to find something to build on

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.
Cal full hntb
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.
Barclays 4
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.
Husky Stadium
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
Sochi Entrance
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.
Basra Sports City main
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.”

Other opportunities

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.”


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