SBJ/July 25-31, 2011/In Depth

Will we ever see the end of the line?

When nature calls, the line starts here. Why the wait may be here to stay.

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
LOUISIANA SUPERDOME
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.

PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
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.”
Return to top

Related Topics:

In-Depth, Finance

Video Powered By - Castfire CMS Powered By - Sitecore

Report a Bug