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Volume 21 No. 1


Don Muret
USC has taken the first step in renovating Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum by searching for an architect to study upgrades to the 92-year-old stadium.

The school short-listed six architects to compete for the Master Facilities Renovation and Development Feasibility Plan after sending a request for qualifications to 11 firms in September, according to a document obtained by SportsBusiness Journal.

DLR Group, Gensler, HNTB, NBBJ, Populous and 360 Architecture made the short list, and four of those firms were scheduled to interview today for the job after a second cut was made last week, according to industry sources.

USC has committed to spend $70 million to $100 million to renovate the coliseum.
HNTB, the designer of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., has the most sports experience on the USC campus. The firm designed Galen Center, the school’s basketball arena, and the John McKay Center, its 100,000-square-foot football operations and support building.

USC plans to hire an architect in the next six months to form a plan for new premium seating and concessions and retail, said Dan Stimmler, USC’s associate senior vice president for auxiliary services.

The school has committed to spend $70 million to $100 million to renovate the coliseum under the terms of the lease it signed in September to take over operations of the facility, which is publicly owned.

In conjunction with the selection of an architect, USC will hire a marketing research consultant to help determine the right mix of premium seating tied to the renovation, as well as naming rights and other potential revenue streams for funding the upgrades, Stimmler said.

Sports research firm CSL International has had discussions with USC about filling the role as marketing consultant, but as of last week no deal had been signed, CSL principal Bill Rhoda said. CSL is part of Legends Sales and Marketing. Its sister firm, Legends Hospitality, took over the food service this fall at both the coliseum and the Los Angeles Sports Arena, which USC also runs.

The coliseum has no permanent suites or club seat product. The extent of premium seating is basically restricted to four temporary suite structures set up in the east end zone for USC football games. USC Sports Properties, a division of Fox Sports, manages those hospitality spaces.

Outside of a new video board installed in 2011, the coliseum has not been renovated since 1995, when the building underwent repairs and upgrades after sustaining damage in an earthquake the year before.

> ’CUE FACTOR: Kansas City will mix two of its passions, basketball and barbecue, during next year’s Big 12 Conference men’s tournament.

While the games are going on March 12-15 inside Sprint Center, the league’s individual schools will compete in a new culinary contest called BBQ U, said Brenda Tinnen, the arena’s general manager and senior vice president of AEG Kansas City.

The event, scheduled for the Friday of tournament week, will be held on Grand Boulevard, the street separating the arena from the Kansas City Power & Light District, a collection of bars and restaurants tied to the Sprint Center development. The street is closed during the tournament.

Last year, conference officials, in conjunction with the Kansas City Sports Commission, introduced a Saturday morning 5K run. Building on that momentum, the addition of BBQ U made sense in a city that prides itself on producing some of the country’s best barbecue, Tinnen said.

Earlier this year, Sprint Center signed a two-year extension to play host to the Big 12 tournament through 2016. The 2014 event will be the fourth time the tournament has been played in the arena since it opened in October 2007.

In addition, historic Kansas City Municipal Auditorium, site of the Final Four from 1940 to 1942, is the home of the NAIA national championships and Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association tournaments.

“During the month of March, you can probably see more college basketball in Kansas City than anywhere else in the world,” Tinnen said.

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

After the new $1.2 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium design was unanimously approved by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority board Tuesday afternoon, lead architect Bill Johnson expressed excitement rather than concern.

Asked if he was worried whether the first-of-its-kind design for a retractable-roof stadium would work, Johnson laughed. Quite the opposite, he said.

“I’m looking forward to when that roof opens up for the first time,” Johnson said of the eight panels that will travel along octagonal tracks to create an opening to the skies. “The heavens will open up.”

More seriously, Johnson said: “I’m not worried at all. We have a great city, and we have a great owner.”

Johnson was referring to Arthur Blank, who had told the designers he wanted to build a retractable-roof stadium unlike anything that had ever been built before. Johnson, senior principal of Kansas City-based 360 Architecture, took that task to heart. “Don’t build a building like everyone else,” Johnson recalled being told.

The resulting design calls for a roof that would open in much the same way as a traditional camera lens opens to take a picture. Johnson also said Blank wanted the building to have a “dramatic view of the downtown skyline,” so the architects oriented the stadium so that there would be a “window to the city” by removing seats on the eastern side of the structure.

In addition to the schematic design, the GWCCA board last week unanimously approved the preliminary budget for the new stadium, plus a host of legal documents related to the deal.

At $1.2 billion, the stadium’s cost is $200 million more than team officials had projected. Falcons President Rich McKay said the increase is due to several factors related to the design and the site.

“The majority of the increased cost is related to the iconic design,” McKay said. “We never wavered from the design. We may have even enhanced it. That drives a lot of that cost.”

The increased budget also is due to the targeted site, south of the Georgia Dome, and the fact that it is basically an open-air stadium that will have the ability to be air conditioned and heated.

“Our desire initially was to build an open-air stadium,” McKay said. “We set a goal that we can design an open-air stadium that can be climatized. When you go into that process, there’s a lot of expense behind that goal. There are a lot of things at play that added to the cost.”

The stadium should be complete in time for the 2017 football season.

Maria Saporta is a contributing writer for the Atlanta Business Chronicle, an affiliated publication. Correspondent Amy Wenk contributed to this report.

For close to 50 years, Madison Square Garden’s finished ceiling has been its defining characteristic. Now add the Chase Bridge seats as another design element unique among big league arenas.

One of the new bridges is visible near the ceiling to the left in MSG’s fully refurbished bowl.
All photos by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY

SBJ Podcast:
Facilities reporter Don Muret describes the renovated Madison Square Garden.

The newest signature feature, within arm’s length of the ceiling, tops the list of final fixtures tied to the massive three-year, $1 billion renovation of the world’s most famous arena and home of the New York Knicks and Rangers.

“You sit in the most spectacular seat for hockey and basketball … there is a vantage point above the action that you can’t find anywhere else,” said Hank Ratner, Madison Square Garden Co.’s president and CEO. “The uniqueness of this seat —

A view from one of the bridges.
there is nothing like it.”

For now, anyway. The novelty of the bridges — two of them hold 430 seats and are suspended above the seating bowl on the 10th floor at the top of the arena — has drawn the attention of other NBA and NHL teams. Three clubs have contacted the Garden for information on potentially adding bridge seats, although MSG officials refuse to identify them.

“There is no one I can talk about right now, but it has captured the imagination of both leagues,” said Murray Beynon, MSG’s architect for the renovation.

The bridge seats provide the “wow” factor MSG was seeking for the most expensive arena project in sports, funded privately and backed by landmark deals such as Chase Bank’s 10-year, $300 million sponsorship to put its name on the bridges and other spaces.

In a sense, MSG is bucking the trend among teams to put patrons as close to the action as possible in premium event-level spaces. The beauty of the bridge seats, though, is that their concourses are open to the public for all ticket holders to sample the one-of-a-kind experience.

New team store is inside Chase Square.
At the Rangers’ regular-season home opener, the bridge seats represented a smorgasbord of the team’s fan base. Wall Street types in suits rubbed elbows with men and women wearing jerseys of Ryan Callahan, the Rangers’ right winger and team captain.

The original roof structure was strong enough that it gave project officials the confidence that it could withstand the stress of supporting the pair of 330-ton bridges, Beynon said.

But the bridges are only part of the show at the arena, a production that now begins in Chase Square, the Garden’s elegant, gleaming new front door on Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan. The two-story, 18,000-square-foot enclosed space, three times larger than the old entrance, is open year-round with a new team store and box office.

The square’s glass walls bring much more sunlight and offer city views into that portion of the building.

As patrons walk through Chase Square, two 600-square-foot video displays on the ceiling deliver custom content that plays off their location in a humorous vein. Fans looking up can catch a glimpse of Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony “crashing” through from basketball court to the square floor or Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist autographing the ice before “closing the lid” on the video clip.

“This is taking the experience to a different level,” Ratner said. “Again, something you can’t find anywhere else.”

The screens symbolize the tall buildings in a city where tourists peer to the sky to see the sights, Beynon said. They also provide a point of reference to the Garden’s event level on the fifth floor. “The main show is up there,” he said.

Inside the seating bowl, Daktronics produced a circular center-hung video board that fits the contours of the Garden. Several major league arenas have followed the Dallas Cowboys’

model by installing rectangular boards, but MSG stayed true to its original design.

“It is the only multi-use arena where the bowl is an oval,” Beynon said. “The curves are part of the building and its DNA.”

As part of the final upgrades, the 18 Signature Suites on the ninth level were renovated. Those skyboxes, the only ones kept intact from the arena’s original design, are on the east end. All units have 12 fixed seats and five bar stools and sell for $500,000 annually, said sources familiar with pricing. There are still

From top: Two ceiling-mounted video screens provide an unusual view for fans entering through the new Chase Square; renovated box office inside Chase Square;  memorabilia in the hallway of the Signature Suite level on the ninth floor; one of the new group spaces that was also part of the final phase of renovations.
some units to sell, although MSG officials would not say how many remain on the market.

The hallways on that level feature memorabilia such as Wayne Gretzky’s locker, an original ice resurfacer predating the Zamboni brand and the Beastie Boys’ green and gold Adidas warmup jackets.

It is one more space the Garden has available to display artifacts from an arena bursting with history.

“We view the whole building as a hall of fame,”Ratner said.

I was skeptical about the new bridge seats at Madison Square Garden after seeing coverage from the Oct. 24 press event at the arena.

Bridge watchers are on solid footing.

SBJ Podcast:
Facilities reporter Don Muret describes the renovated Madison Square Garden.

The photos I saw online showed a distant view of the playing surface from near the top of the building, which is really nothing special. It looked like just another gimmick for teams to sell upper-level seats, traditionally a challenge in the major leagues.

My thinking changed when I saw the Garden’s finished product for myself.

I had the chance to sit in the first row of seats on the north bridge and check out the view before the Rangers’ regular-season home opener. Photos don’t do it justice. It truly is a great view, much closer to the action than I thought.

I was impressed with the design of the bridge seat structure itself. As an ex-sportswriter, I have experienced the press catwalk at Ahearn Fieldhouse swaying from the roar of the crowd during a Kansas-Kansas State men’s basketball game. At the first night game at Wrigley Field in 1988, I sat in the old auxiliary platform reserved for media spillover high above the grandstand, and it was all I could do to prevent the strong winds from blowing my papers onto Clark Street.

The bridge seat setup at the Garden, with most of the south bridge reserved for media, is nothing like those nerve-racking experiences. It blends seamlessly into the building without creating a feeling of vertigo from hanging high above the crowd. To reach the bridges, fans walk a narrow path on a gradual incline that flows into the structures spanning the arena’s north and south sides. The bridges themselves are 21 feet wide with carpeted walkways that essentially form a second level on the arena’s 10th floor.

The bridge level itself is open to all ticket holders regardless of where they’re sitting. From watching some fans display more interest in the opposite sex than in the Rangers’ inability to score, I’m guessing it could become the next singles hotspot in sports. Just a hunch.

— Don Muret

The bridge seat concept that makes such a impact at Madison Square Garden is not new.

Ten years ago, sports architects Tom Tingle and George Heinlein proposed bridge-style seating for new arena projects in Charlotte and Sacramento. For various reasons, including arena funding issues in California, those ideas never gained traction.


SBJ Podcast:
Facilities reporter Don Muret describes the renovated Madison Square Garden.

Air Canada Centre, designed by Brisbin Brook Beynon, the Canadian firm headed by Murray Beynon, MSG’s architect for the renovation, considered adding bridge seats five years ago in a retrofit, almost a decade after the Toronto arena opened in 1999.

“It is a great concept but a very expensive and complicated construction,” said Bob Hunter, chief facilities and live entertainment officer for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the arena’s owner. “We abandoned the idea because of that.”

The Golden State Warriors are developing a new arena — and even showcase the Golden Gate Bridge in their logo — but are not considering bridge seats as part of their project, team President Rick Welts said. The Kings, meanwhile, are still determining the right mix of premium seats in their latest effort to build a new arena. To this point, nothing is final for their $448 million project, said Jon Niemuth, AECOM’s principal-in-charge of the project.

AECOM officials have discussed the MSG renovation with a few NBA clients, Niemuth said, and those teams are quick to point out they don’t believe the economics tied to the project in general would work in Sacramento or, for example, in Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.

“There are many interesting features of MSG that because of the New York marketplace really do not have application in other places,” Niemuth said. “They don’t have the volume [of corporate business] or pricing to support it.”