SBJ/Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2011/Facilities

Ten years later, these arenas are still inspiring new designs

Nationwide Arena and Xcel Energy Center debuted in September 2000 for the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. Since then, virtually every big league winter sports team has traveled a well-worn path to visit the buildings when planning new venues.

Talk to officials with the Coyotes, Devils and Penguins, and executives with the Rockets, Grizzlies, Bobcats and Magic, and they will tell you how Nationwide and Xcel, celebrating 10-year anniversaries this season, influenced their individual projects. Those seven teams opened new facilities from 2003 to 2010, and took bits and pieces from the best of what the two arenas had to offer, whether it was Xcel's focus on team branding revolving around its "State of Hockey" and outdoor recreation themes or Nationwide's suite towers and overall mix of midpriced premium seats.
Nationwide Arena anchors a successful entertainment district in Columbus

"Here we are now 10 years after the fact and when people look into building a new arena now, this is still one of the top models they go to," said George Heinlein, one of the design architects in Columbus.

Nationwide is a particular draw for teams looking to integrate arenas into urban districts. The Edmonton Oilers, attempting to build a $400 million downtown venue with accompanying retail and entertainment developments, toured both facilities but paid special attention to Columbus' Arena District, one of the few successful mixed-use developments tied to a sports facility. The
Xcel Energy Center, like Nationwide, drew some design pinciples from ballparks.

same is true for Pittsburgh, where the Penguins own the rights to develop land across from their new arena, Consol Energy Center.

In addition to their individual strengths, Nationwide and Xcel share some traits that have kept prospective arena developers coming back to pick up ideas. Oddly enough for arenas, a couple of those sprang from MLB ballparks.

Both Ray Chandler, a veteran of the old HOK Sport who was the Wild's project director for Xcel, and Brad Schrock, Heinlein's partner on the Columbus design, point to Coors Field in Denver and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore as chief influences for planning Nationwide and Xcel. (The pair had worked together on Coors, where Chandler was HOK's principal-in-charge and hired Schrock as lead designer.)

Other innovations that have helped set these 10-year-old arenas apart:

The Fishing Lodge club destination carries the arena's theming.

» The sweaters of 200 Minnesota high school hockey teams make up the Wells Fargo Jersey Wall on the club level. Prudential Center and Consol Energy Center developed similar displays.

» The facility's food destinations celebrate Minnesota's hunting and fishing culture. The Headwaters Bistro restaurant on the club level and the Fishing Lodge, exclusive to the 190 season-ticket holders with front-row seats facing the glass, carry that theme.

» Four elevated platforms in the upper corners are reserved for sponsor activation and game presentation. Fox Sports North uses one crow's nest during its broadcasts; another supports a faux lighthouse that comes alive with a foghorn, lights and fog after a Wild goal.

The party towers are prominent in the arena's bowl.
» The Blue Jackets' loge boxes and terrace tables, a hybrid between a club seat and suite, were the first premium seats to sell out when the arena opened in 2000. Most NHL and NBA arenas built since then have incorporated them.

» Two 80-foot-tall party towers anchor the arena's west side. Toyota sponsors the northwest tower. The southwest tower's top two floors are branded as the Miller Lite Power Play Suite and can accommodate up to 48 people.

» The development has grown to include 500 apartments, more than 200 condominiums, a theater, concert venue and Huntington Park, new home of the Columbus Clippers.

— Don Muret
Nationwide Realty Investors President Brian Ellis, whose company was the private developer financing 90 percent of Nationwide Arena, selected Heinlein Schrock as the architect, pairing it with NBBJ's local office. Ellis saw an opportunity for the venue to fit into the urban core the way that Camden Yards did in Baltimore, Schrock said. Coors Field was the model for ancillary development.

Ellis wanted to replicate the energy that the ballparks created, both inside and outside.

"It was a little bit different taking cues from baseball stadiums than arenas, but we felt we could achieve that energy," Ellis said. "Ten years after we opened, I think we have developed a very successful district."

Open concourses and the views they create, concepts borrowed from the ballparks, are vital to both arenas.

In Minnesota, the curved glass wall that spans 23,000 square feet at the front of the arena provides unique views of a historic cathedral and the state Capitol. At night in the upper deck, fans can follow the trail of street lights from Seventh Street all the way to the airport. It was the city's mandate to provide those visual connections to other landmarks in town, Chandler said.

In Columbus, where Nationwide Realty Investors' vision was to use the arena as a catalyst to drive other development, the idea was to provide views into the building for Arena District residents and other pedestrians walking by.

"We spent a ton of time paying attention to making the building transparent enough that you can see in it and also [dividing] the seating bowl in a way that when the lights are on in the arena and you're at the front door, you can look all the way through and see the center-hung scoreboard," Heinlein said. "I don't think anybody thought of that before."

Nationwide and Xcel are also both known for seating bowls with great sight lines for hockey, thanks to designs that pull the roofline closer to the ice floor.

At Xcel, the bowl was developed for patrons on all levels to walk down to their seats. Psychologically, that part of facility design makes the fans feel like they're moving closer to the action to sit in a better seat, even in the upper deck, said Jack Larson, the arena's vice president and general manager. "You never walk up. You are always looking down," Larson said.

Nationwide has no traditional suites at stage end, a design requirement tied to maximizing revenue for concerts in a building with only 52 suites, the second-smallest number in the NHL behind Nassau Coliseum. What that did was allow Heinlein and Schrock to pull a portion of upper-deck seats opposite stage end closer to the ice. The two four-level, sponsored suite towers in the arena's northwest and southwest corners, flanking stage end, fill the gap for the change in geometry on both ends of the arena, Schrock said.

Both arenas have not spent a tremendous amount of money on renovations since they opened, which speaks to the advance planning for both arenas. The Blue Jackets, among other upgrades, added 10 four-person terrace tables in 2003 to meet market demand and expanded the Time Warner Cable HD Lounge, the arena's full-service restaurant at event level. The Wild added more themed elements such as the Phillips Old Time Hockey Lounge on the upper concourse and more Hockey Lodge retail locations.

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