SBJ/Aug. 4-10, 2014/Facilities

Portland Timbers plan stadium revamp to boost capacity

Don Muret
The Portland Timbers have a plan to increase stadium capacity by eliminating 6,000 fixed seats tied to their supporters group at Providence Park.

The theory behind the project: Addition by subtraction at a sold-out facility with a waiting list of 10,000 for season tickets, according to
Mike Golub, the team’s president of business operations.

The Timbers Army, Portland’s supporters group, is situated in the stadium’s north end. As most supporters groups do in North America as well as overseas, the group’s members stand throughout home games cheering and waving banners, Golub said. As a result, the Timbers Army does not have much use for fixed seats — so the group has asked team officials to get rid of the seats to provide them more room, in large part, to execute its choreographed chants, which are led by individuals who are perched in elevated structures called “capo stands,” with their backs to the field.

The plan would eliminate fixed seats tied to a supporters group in the north end of Providence Park and reconfigure the space.
Photo by: DON MURET / STAFF

The Timbers listened to the group’s request and have developed a plan to remove those seats and reconfigure the space as a tiered, standing terrace with protective railings. The project, estimated to cost in the mid-six figures, would be funded by the Timbers but must be approved by the city and MLS officials before construction starts. Pending those approvals, the Timbers would complete the project in time for the 2015 season.

“Our biggest challenge for a stadium built in 1926 is to find new areas to build new seats for people to enjoy one of the most special live-event experiences in the country,” Golub said.

AECOM, the architect for the original retrofit of the 88-year-old facility, is doing the redesign to fill the spaces that held single seats two-deep with standing patrons. It effectively would double capacity in most of the north end of the building. The facility currently holds about 20,800 fans.

The plan includes installing a smaller seating product in the north end to meet the needs of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Portland Thorns, the stadium’s other tenant, and other events. The mini-seats, common in European stadiums, fold up and would not interfere with the supporters’ actions at Timbers games, Golub said.

Turner Construction, the firm that built the retrofit of the former minor league ballpark, a project completed in 2011, is teaming once again with AECOM for the seat-removal job. It would be the first time an MLS team has removed permanent seats to accommodate supporters groups, league officials confirmed.

> ROSY OUTLOOK: The Portland Trail Blazers have seen a resurgence in the restaurant next to Moda Center after taking it over in tandem with Levy Restaurants, the arena’s concessionaire.

Dr. Jack’s, named for the late Jack Ramsay, the coach who led the Blazers to the 1977 NBA title, opened in early March after undergoing a $1.4 million facelift. It used to be Cucina Cucina, an Italian restaurant, part of a building that also houses the Blazers’ team offices, the arena’s box office and a small microbrewery.

The Dr. Jack’s restaurant next to Portland’s Moda Center has been a hit.
Photo by: RYAN PROUTY / PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

The old restaurant was open year-round at the Rose Quarter, a district incorporating the arena and Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Blazers’ old home before they moved to their new arena in 1995. But it suffered for lack of business on nonevent days, and the Blazers decided to take over the space and give it a boost by rebranding it for the community’s beloved coach.

Dr. Jack’s is open only on event nights at Moda Center but it’s been a big hit. Through the end of June, the 10,000-square-foot restaurant run by Levy drew 46,000 people through its doors, producing gross revenue on a Blazers game night 10 times more than what the previous establishment posted, said Chris Oxley, general manager of Rose Quarter operations.

The gastro-pub, as Oxley best describes it, opened on a Monday, March 3, a night when the Blazers played host to the Los Angeles Lakers. It was pouring rain outside, and 900 people still showed up at Dr. Jack’s despite no advertising or promotions. 

Business has only gone up from there, and most important, Dr. Jack’s has not cannibalized food and beverage sales inside the arena. It’s been 100 percent incremental revenue for the team, Oxley said.

“We wanted people to be able to come in here and spend two hours if they wanted to, or if it’s just meeting a friend and heading into the game, they could be in and out of here — grab a bite to eat and a beer — in 20 minutes,” he said.

The eatery’s design touches provide some connections to the arena, including a Portland Trail Blazers sign that once stood atop the center-hung scoreboard and an illuminated capital letter R from the old Rose Garden sign that now points patrons to the restaurant’s restrooms. 

Garage-style glass doors tie the interior space to an outdoor patio equipped with picnic tables for al fresco dining. The roll-up doors are similar to other restaurants in Portland, said Michael Lewellen, the Blazers’ vice president of corporate communications and public engagement.

The list of microbrews in a market that pioneered the craft beer trend expands well beyond the flavors served inside the arena and those tied to the Blazers’ beer sponsors.

Bottom line, it was time for a refresh to give fans a new place to get excited about as the arena turns 20 years old next year, Oxley said.

“I’d love to say it was a brilliant concept and we executed it flawlessly … but it was something that people just wanted,” he said.

> OVERHEARD: Ohio State University will aggressively pursue stadium concerts after installing permanent lights at The Shoe. School officials are already talking to promoters about booking one to two shows next summer, said Xen Riggs, OSU’s associate vice president for student life. Riggs was among the attendees at VenueConnect 2014, the International Association of Venue Managers’ annual conference and trade show, July 25-29. Back in Columbus, concerts fit well with OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith’s objective for making greater use of the 102,329-seat Ohio Stadium, Riggs said. The last time the stadium played host to a concert was in 2003, a heavy metal extravaganza featuring Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Mudvayne and the Deftones. … Veteran architect Ron Turner, head of Gensler’s sports practice, sees an easier path for the Oakland Raiders to find a site to build a new stadium and remain in the Bay Area than options that have been heard publicly. Instead of fighting with multiple interests at current home O.Co Coliseum, he thinks the Raiders should make a beeline for Candlestick Park in San Francisco after the facility is torn down in 2015. Turner points out the city already has its environmental impact review in hand, a requirement and a major hurdle for new construction in California. The EIR was completed in 2010 as part of San Francisco’s attempt to keep the 49ers in town before they went 40 miles south to Santa Clara to build Levi’s Stadium. After The Stick is leveled, developer Lennar Urban plans to build a mix of retail, housing and entertainment venues on the property. The EIR originally was tied to building a new stadium and a 10,000-seat arena. Of course, for the Raiders, there’s the sticky issue of funding a new stadium. … Trail Blazers television announcers are still getting used to the name Moda Center, almost one full year after the team’s arena was renamed. During an IAVM Q&A session, Chris McGowan, the Blazers’ president and CEO, said he heard one of his TV guys mention “Rose Garden” at a recent NBA Summer League game. “We’re going to have to talk to him,” McGowan joked. The arena was called the Rose Garden for about 18 years before Moda, a health and dental insurance provider, bought its naming rights in August 2013. … The Audubon Society recently issued a press release stating the translucent glass roof covering the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium would be a “death trap” for birds unwittingly flying into the facility’s outer walls. Tom Scarangello, chairman and CEO of Thornton Tomasetti, the stadium’s structural engineer, said those claims are nonsense based on other projects he has worked on over the years, including a glass atrium at the Hudson Yards complex in New York. “Birds are a lot smarter than people give them credit for,” Scarangello said. 

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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