SBJ/July 25-31, 2011/In Depth

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  • Decisions, decisions, decisions

    ■ The project: Site selection
    The goal: Find the right location at the right price
    The challenge: Land costs, traffic access, permitting

    Real estate is all about finding the right location and sports facilities are no different. Architects work closely with teams to identify the best sites and sometimes the designers come up with a better idea.

    Architects suggested building Livestrong Sporting Park on a site originally planned for an office building.
    In Kansas City, Kan., OnGoal, the group that owns Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City, identified a site for a new stadium a few blocks away from where it was ultimately constructed. The site where the stadium sits now was originally targeted for an office building for a medical software firm tied to the club’s ownership.

    However, stadium designer Populous suggested a “flip-flop,” moving the office project to the site where the club wanted to build the soccer facility and relocating the stadium project to the proposed office site. Populous explained that its preferred site, next to Kansas Speedway, was more accessible to cars and pedestrians, said Populous’ Jon Knight, a principal designer for Livestrong Sporting Park. Most importantly, the stadium could be the centerpiece of the Legends West development nestled between the speedway and a new casino project to the west, and major retailers to the east.

    As for other factors involved in site selection, the cost of building foundation systems, relocation of utilities, demolition of existing structures and whether the seating bowl is elevated or below grade influence the decision, said Tom Paci, vice president and director of preconstruction for Turner Construction’s sports group.

    ■ The project: Seating
    The goal: Optimize capacity
    The challenge: Maximizing seat inventory without sacrificing comfort or proximity to the action

    Choosing the right style of seats for a sports facility is a trade-off between creating an intimate seating bowl and the
    The design of Consol Energy Center allowed for a larger seat while still keeping fans close to the action.
    comfort of the chair itself, according to Tim Romani, president and CEO of Icon Venue Group, an owner’s representative.

    The bigger the tread depth — the length measured from the back of the chair to the front — the less likely a building will have a tight seating bowl. The right size to optimize capacity in the seating bowl is to select a seat with a 33-inch tread, Romani said. More teams, however, are going with 35-inch treads, a more comfortable chair that ultimately reduces the number of rows in the bowl.

    “You don’t want to have more than 28, 30 at the most, rows of seating,” Romani said. “You’d rather be down around 24 or 26 rows, but if you put in a 35-inch tread, you’re pushing how far that last row is going to be from the event floor itself.”

    Consol Energy Center, the Penguins’ new arena in Pittsburgh and an Icon client, reached a happy medium. The NHL club wanted a larger, comfortable seat with more leg room and selected a 35-inch tread. The design of the arena bowl itself, with one primary suite level that pushes all fans closer to the ice, helped the Penguins make that decision without losing the sense of intimacy, Romani said.

    The seat options for suites have improved dramatically in recent years and so has the cost to buy those high-end items. In general, the price for those seats has jumped from $250 each to as high as $800, Romani said.

    Beyond fixed seating, dual-purpose arenas must make decisions on telescopic seats, the movable sections of the lower bowl that surround the court for basketball and retract underneath the end zones and sidelines for hockey. Irwin Seating Co. has 35 different chair types for telescopic seating, said Bill Waldo, the firm’s director of major projects.

    ■ The project: Concessions
    The goal: Maximize revenue, offer diverse food and drink options
    The challenge: Building adequate points of sale and offering new ways to improve the fan experience

    Food service plays a pivotal role in the development of major league arenas and stadiums, and it is important to plan the right number of concession stands to maximize revenue.

    A typical ratio is to have one point of sale for every 100 people in the lower bowl.
    In general, those buildings at the highest level of sports are designed with one point of sale for every 100 people in the lower bowl, said food consultant Chris Bigelow. In the upper deck, where the crowds are historically not as dense as downstairs, the ratio is one to 125 or 150, not counting portable stands. In college stadiums where no beer is sold, the ratio may be as low as 1 to 250 people because the concession stands do a lower volume of business, Bigelow said.

    Concourse design dictates where concessions are located. Open concourses call for permanent food stands to be built along the back wall of the building. Rule of thumb calls for 50 percent of concession stands to be designed with vents for fryers and grills, Bigelow said.

    Beyond those basic formulas, to satisfy fans’ demand for tastier food and drink options and provide a new experience, food is taking over areas typically reserved for game operations.

    Cowboys Stadium and Livestrong Sporting Park both have event-level clubs where the home teams walk through the middle of those lounges to and from the field.

    “Everybody is fighting for the same space [at event level] with all the functions that go into the building, whether it’s food service, maintenance, engineering and offices, so it’s a matter of prioritizing,” Bigelow said. “We make our case that we are a revenue producer.”

    ■ The project: Concourse design
    The goal: Provide for smooth pedestrian flow
    The challenge: Making concourse areas a greater revenue tool

    There is no hard and fast rule for determining concourse width, but it is best not to go below a 35-foot span inside big
    Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis branded concourse space for a variety of sponsors.
    league facilities, said Aecom’s James Poulson. The exact width depends on the number of seats served by those walkways.

    On the main level, the concourses are wider because, in general, there are more seats in the lower bowl. With fewer seats in the upper bowl, the concourses are narrower upstairs.

    HKS, the designer for Cowboys Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium, took a different approach to developing concourse dimensions, treating those large, often blank spaces as a series of separate rooms branded for the founding partners of the two NFL facilities. In Indianapolis, the corners are sponsor zones and the entire north end zone is dedicated to activation surrounding Lucas Oil, the stadium’s naming-rights holder. In Arlington, Texas, the three 15,000-square-foot platforms in each end zone at Cowboys Stadium are sponsor showrooms in addition to serving as concourse space and an area for standing-room-only ticket holders.

    “How wide the concourse will be is not even on our radar screen except as a secondary goal,” said Bryan Trubey, principal and director of HKS Sports and Entertainment. “We think the other goals are of much higher importance and a higher priority. You want the concourse, if you design it correctly, to be a revenue tool.”

    ■ The project: Flooring
    The goal: Provide an attractive finishing touch for the building
    The challenge: Choosing products with up-front value but durability

    Flooring is purely a budget-driven issue in sports facilities. The ultimate decision comes down to who is paying for it, designers said.

    Wake Forest made flooring a showpiece in its Deacon Tower project in 2008.
    Some teams spend a lot money for a terrazzo-poured floor to get a high-end finish on the main concourse. Other clubs prefer a more practical approach, opting for a less expensive option that is easier to clean and does not have to be replaced every five to seven years.

    Some facility managers want the floor to look nice when the building is unoccupied so they may choose a terrazzo floor. Others don’t care, and their view is that when their venue is filled with people, nobody can see the floor anyway.

    The price difference is substantial: a poured terrazzo floor can be $18 per square foot; terrazzo tile is $10 per square foot, said Tim Romani, president and CEO of Icon Venue Group.

    “We put poured terrazzo in the main concourse at Sprint Center and terrazzo tile in the upper concourse, and I actually like the tile better and it’s a much better value, as well,” he said. “Terrazzo, if it’s kept right, can look like a really high-gloss stone flooring, but if it’s not kept well or if it takes some abuse with scratching and carts and telegraphing cracks through it, it really starts to look bad early and replacing it is really difficult to do well without being cost prohibitive.

    “It certainly has its place, but I prefer a very nice stone tile product or something along those lines, which is easier to replace and still has the highest quality finish look, as well.”

    ■ The project: Technology
    The goal: Provide audio, video and wireless systems that appeal to patrons and partners
    The challenge: Selecting technical elements that can be linked and don’t break the bank

    The key to using new technology in sports facilities today is to pick one company to tie all the systems together. Cisco’s
    Video boards continue to get bigger and better.
    StadiumVision, an Internet protocol television network, is one example.

    “Before, we would try to have tech integrators involved to tie these systems together,” said Tim Romani, president and CEO of Icon Venue Group. “Now it’s standard operating procedure for all of these various low voltage systems to be on a converged network. We did that in Pittsburgh incredibly well, some with the advent of Cisco Systems, some with the advent of using technology better and with thought and planning behind it.”

    Otherwise, the latest high-definition video boards that teams are installing both at new facilities and existing buildings are getting bigger and better, but once you get to a certain screen resolution, “improving beyond that is not recognizable to the human eye,” Romani said.

    “They’re brighter, more environmentally friendly, they last longer, all of those things happen,” he said. “But once you go beyond that, you really just lose it; you’re spending money unnecessarily, in my opinion. It is always a balance to fitting the best video product for your particular environment but realizing when you just don’t need to go beyond that.”

    Daktronics and Harris Corp. are two other companies that have IPTV systems installed in sports facilities. Harris, a company specializing in military IT systems, is a founding partner at Amway Center in Orlando.

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  • Will we ever see the end of the line?

    You’ve been there. You sneak away from the game for a trip to the rest room only to see a line snaking out the door.

    It’s a situation as old as the sports facility itself. Yet as venues evolve and add amenities and all the latest technical bells and whistles, why is it that their rest room plans often still don’t flush?

    The latest call for action came at New Meadowlands Stadium, where men sitting in the cheap seats griped about the rest room wait. The stadium has answered by boosting rest room urinals upstairs by a whopping 46 percent, squeezing 67 more urinals into men’s rest rooms. That’s in addition to the 718 men’s rest room fixtures the stadium opened with in April 2010.

    Is this a problem that can be avoided by following formulas that call for X number of stalls for X number of fans? Or is this a mere fact of life that can’t be avoided? After all, everyone has been part of the halftime rest room stampede. Could there ever be enough stalls?

    For developers, designing the correct number of rest rooms and planning the proper layout of those facilities remain
    moving targets. Teams, architects, operators and consultants routinely design a total number far exceeding building code requirements.

    New Meadowlands Stadium is not the first sports venue to go through that experience and it won’t be the last. Soldier Field added men’s urinals in 2004 after Chicago Bears fans complained of long waits to use the bathroom after the reconstructed stadium opened in 2003. Busch Stadium in St. Louis and LP Field in Nashville also tweaked their rest room counts in recent years.

    One consultant’s rule of thumb is one urinal for every 80 male spectators, one water closet (toilet stall) for every 200

    Architects often rely on a series of ratios to determine how many urinals and stalls to offer.
    to 225 men, and one water closet for every 60 women, said Tim Romani, president and CEO of Icon Venue Group, an owner’s representative.

    “Let’s say for an arena, there are 7,000 people in the upper deck and 50 percent of those are men,” Romani said. “With 3,500 men in the upper deck and a 1-to-80 ratio for urinals, do the math and it comes out to 43.75. I usually tell people we need 50 urinals up there to be safe.”

    That’s before the building opens its doors and the quirks of human behavior take over. Identifying which rest rooms will get the most traffic is a guessing game. Miss the mark on rest rooms and the best laid plans can easily end up in the crapper.

    “It is not just the counts or the ratios, but the distribution and understanding who within the seating bowl is going to use which rest room, essentially,” Romani said. “It is not as simple as using a 1-to-whatever ratio; it is more, ‘where do you have them located?’”

    Checking the plumbing

    There are 27,897 upper deck seats at New Meadowlands Stadium, and for New York Giants games, at least, 19,528 of them are occupied by men, based on Big Blue’s estimate that 70 percent of its crowd is male.

    Last year, the first season in the $1.7 billion stadium, many of those men sitting upstairs felt they had to wait too long to use the rest rooms on Concourse Level 3. By comparison, women didn’t experience long lines, according to stadium developers.

    Yes, payback is tough, buddy. But as in any democracy, majority ruled. New Meadowlands Stadium Co., the joint venture that runs the stadium for the Giants and Jets, spent about $2 million this offseason for two major upgrades. One project included the 67 additional urinals on the upper concourse.

    New Meadowlands Stadium boosted the number of urinals serving fans in the upper deck.
    “It’s not like it was unbearable,” said Mark Lamping, the stadium company’s president and CEO. “We had the ability to modify a handful of rest rooms in a pretty easy way. No walls were knocked down. They were oversized to begin with for the number of fixtures in there.”

    New Meadowlands Stadium initially had 190 men’s fixtures in the upper deck — 147 urinals and 43 toilets. The retrofits will represent a 46 percent boost in men’s urinals upstairs, said Craig Schmitt, a principal with EwingCole, New Meadowlands’ architect of record.

    Forty-six percent is a big number, but male Jets and Giants fans who missed key moments of games last year while standing in line to use the toilet would give stadium developers a personal foul for that key piece of facility design.

    Schmitt, however, defends the design. The stadium opened with 718 total fixtures in men’s rest rooms overall — 524 urinals and 194 toilet stalls. Those surpassed, by a large margin, the 269 total fixtures required for men under the National Standard Building Code, the prevailing plumbing code in New Jersey for sports venues, he said.

    There are no clear answers to why that wasn’t enough. Obviously, at key points during an NFL game, such as the 12-minute halftime break, rest rooms get overwhelmed regardless of the number of fixtures and location. It is the nature of the game compared with baseball, a leisurely sport where people tend to use the rest rooms all game long, Schmitt said.

    Schmitt theorizes that inside the new stadium, fans were still getting used to where things were located. On Concourse Level 3, the rest rooms next to the concession stands along the sidelines were jammed compared with the men’s facilities in the end zones that were not as full.

    “If you head to the concourse to go to the rest room and get food, you make a mental note of where those destinations are,” he said. “In the end zones, there are very few concession stands, so you may not have a reason to go down there.”

    ‘Caveman’ mentality

    Architects studying the issue of “potty parity” can tell you everything you need to know about the differences in behavior patterns for how men and women line up and use the rest room. In some respects, it’s almost too much information.

    “It’s funny because the conversation of rest rooms and potty parity occupies a lot of time for sports architects,” said Tom Proebstle, a principal with Generator Studio designing a $40 million renovation at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.

    Proebstle keeps a chart tracking every major league arena and stadium, and the number of seats and rest rooms serving each of those facilities. Architects have a much greater understanding for how rest rooms work after the first wave of new sports buildings came in the 1990s. Still, “lines do happen,” Proebstle said.

    Men are basically “cavemen” when they are in a hurry to use the rest room at a sports facility, said James Poulson, Aecom’s design director for Barclays Center, the Nets’ arena under construction in Brooklyn. Women, conversely, wash their hands after they’re finished.

    “Men have no idea how women use a rest room, while women can only guess but really have no idea,” Poulson said. “I have witnessed couples who have been together for years look at each other in surprise. I guess it is something that doesn’t come up in their conversations.”

    It could be that waiting in line could just be a fact of life for male pro football fans in New York. Historically, a much
    larger percentage of men attend NFL games than women. The 70 percent male figure for Giants games is 10 percent greater than the typical 60-40 split of men over women at NFL games overall, said Proebstle, who in the past worked on stadium upgrades for the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

    “My guess would be Indianapolis, Phoenix and Seattle would have more females going to NFL games than Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and New York, those cities where people have had season tickets for 30 years and it’s more of a guy thing,” said Mike Fox, director of Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts.

    Looking back in New Jersey, the old Giants Stadium had more rest room facilities for men than women, yet “there was always a line, the same with women,” said Erik Stover, outgoing managing director of Red Bull Arena and Giants Stadium’s former assistant vice president of operations. “You have to know your crowd.”

    At New Meadowlands, stadium officials noticed long lines for the men’s room almost immediately, Schmitt said. They positioned guest services staff by the congested rest rooms to direct men and women to where they could find less crowded rest rooms. It helped relieve pressure, but there were still complaints, which led to a EwingCole study to find a solution to the problem.

    For sports facilities in general, potty parity — the number of rest rooms for men compared to women — has mostly revolved around a lack of enough toilets for women. In the last 20 years, individual states have passed laws requiring public assembly facilities to have an equal number of rest room fixtures for women at a minimum, and in some cases, a 2-to-1 or even 3-to-1 ratio in favor of women over men.

    “A building that is perfectly well designed with an equal number of facilities for men and women is great, but it will take women longer to use the rest room, and once you get into that fact, women need more fixtures,” said Bob Brubaker, program manager for the American Restroom Association, an advocacy group. Brubaker, who prefers to use the term “gender parity” to describe the issue, said most modern codes automatically require more fixtures for women.

    Following the crowd

    Architects say it took time for building codes to catch up with their designs for arenas and stadiums, and that their standards for planning rest rooms remain at a higher level than most state and federal requirements. Moreover, facility operators say those codes are often meaningless considering the multitude of events they book in the course of the year.

    On any given night, operators must contend with a sharp change in demographics for the sports, concerts and other special events taking place in their buildings.

    Case in point, this summer’s Katy Perry and Taylor Swift concert tours. Both events attract an overwhelming number of female patrons. On her own, Swift’s crowds have skewed as high as 90 percent female, prompting arena managers to convert men’s rest rooms to women’s facilities where possible. Amway Center, the Magic’s new arena in Orlando, switched two men’s rooms on both concourses as well as some family rest rooms when Swift performed there, said Allen Johnson, the facility’s executive director. Wachovia Center did the same thing when Perry performed in Philadelphia, said Mike Ahearn, vice president of operations at Global Spectrum, the arena’s management firm.

    In sports, Lucas Oil Stadium switched about a half-dozen women’s rest rooms to men’s facilities for the 2010 NCAA Men’s Final Four, an event where crowds are historically 65 percent men, Fox said. With 1,400 bathroom fixtures, 715 on the women’s side, stadium designers placed high priority on planning an extra-large number of amenities such as bathrooms to accommodate high-profile events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl, said Bryan Trubey, a principal with HKS Sports and Entertainment, the facility’s architect.

    Advance planning aside, Lucas Oil Stadium officials plan to speak with the NFL about turning over more women’s rest rooms to men’s facilities for the 2012 Super Bowl, Fox said.

    “The challenge is there are actually very few stalls in the men’s washroom,” said Bob Hunter, executive vice president of venues and entertainment at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Swift and Perry both performed there earlier this month and the arena did not flip men’s rest rooms for women.

    “Even if you do those conversions, you have [dozens of urinals] and two stalls. Those are very young audiences so they are not heavy alcohol consumers,” Hunter said. “There is no less traffic in the rest rooms, but it’s not like a ton of people at a Motley Crue concert.”

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  • Building designers see the differences

    Planning rest rooms gets into the psyche of how men and women approach nature’s calling.

    Men have no problem crowding next to each other inside the rest room waiting in line for open urinals and stalls. By comparison, women tend to stop at the entrance to the rest room and wait until a toilet door opens before entering. They give each other privacy and don’t have the habit of looking under the stall door to see if it is occupied. As a result, lines often form stretching out to the concourse.

    Design firm Generator Studio provided this illustration to show how men and women approach the rest rooms, with men crowding inside and women waiting at a distance.
    That’s among the findings by sports architect James Poulson, a principal with Aecom in Kansas City, who studied the issue after the topic of “We need more women’s rest rooms” kept popping up.

    To adapt to women’s rest room etiquette and cut down on concourse congestion, Poulson designed rest rooms at CenturyLink Field in Seattle nestled behind concession stands. The layout provides a 20-foot corridor with enough “stacking space” to keep lines from causing bottlenecks in the concourse. Aecom designed the same setup on the renovated plaza level at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

    The differences in usage is also playing out in Tampa, where the Lightning is eliminating rest rooms in 49 of the 52 suites on the upper level at the St. Pete Times Forum. Removing those toilets will free up more space to entertain in the suites, said Tom Proebstle, a principal with Generator Studio designing the improvements.

    To replace those lavatories, the architect is designing group rest rooms down the hall for men and women. For women, it’s a welcome change.

    “Women in general don’t like toilets in the suites,” Proebstle said. “It’s something we’ve known for a long time. For men, half the time the bathroom door isn’t locked, and women hate that. When women use the rest room, they feel like people are watching them and they have to sneak in there.”

    Potty parity

    The International Plumbing Code requires that architects use 50 percent men and 50 percent women as the starting point
    in determining the number of fixtures required. However, additional potty parity is built into the code because stadium designers and code officials recognize that women’s use of toilets is different than men’s use. For example, under guidelines for stadiums:

    Male toilets: 1/75 for first 1,500 male occupants, then 1/120 for remainder exceeding 1,500.

    Female toilets: 1/40 for first 1,500 female occupants, then 1/60 for remainder exceeding 1,500.

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