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Volume 20 No. 46
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Groundbreakers: An architect reflects on six 1990s hockey arenas he helped design

New Homes For Hockey

When Little Caesars Arena opens this fall in Detroit, it will be the Red Wings' third home in 90 years, following Olympia Stadium (1927–79) and Joe Louis Arena (1979-present). It also will be the 74th arena to serve as the permanent home to an NHL franchise.

Decade No. of arenas built
1890-1909 5
1910-19 5
1920-29 8
1930-39 1
1940-49 2
1950-59 1
1960-69 8
1970-79 9
1980-89 4
1990-99 20
2000-09 6
2010-present 5
Sports architect Dan Sullivan, a senior associate at AECOM, designed a half-dozen NHL arenas that opened in the 1990s. While sipping a cold one, Sullivan, still designing sports venues, shared his thoughts on those facilities in Boston; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Philadelphia; St. Louis; Tampa; and Washington.

TD Garden — “It was designed in some respects after the old Boston Garden, but we did provide hot and cold water to the visiting team locker room,” Sullivan said, tongue-in-cheek. “What was really cool about the new Garden was bringing over as much as possible from the old Garden. All the [championship] banners were replicated but scaled up about 20 percent so that they had the same look and feel. People accused of us of having dead spots for basketball at the new arena [where the ball wouldn’t bounce as high off the court], just like the old building.”

BB&T Center and Amalie Arena — “South Florida, who would think you’d have a winter sport down there? All the Canadian and Northern U.S. facilities were typical, the epitome of hockey. But to have hockey in South Florida just kind of defied description. For both Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, the humidity was a huge mechanical issue to contend with … you talk about good ice and bad ice. South Florida is the last place in the world that you would want to make ice for a hockey game. That was a challenge we overcame. We basically added a big dehumidifier to the HVAC system.”

Order Up!

The food and beverage partners that fans are most likely to see in today's arenas

Concessionaire No. of NHL arenas
Levy Restaurants 11*
Aramark 8
Delaware North Cos. Sportservice 6^
Soda pouring rights No. of NHL arenas
Coca-Cola 16*
Pepsi 13
Dr Pepper Snapple Group 2

* Includes T-Mobile Arena, scheduled to become home to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights this fall.
^ Includes Little Caesars Arena, scheduled to open this fall; soda rights for the arena have not been determined yet.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

Scottrade Center — “What was fun about that project was locating it in an urban area directly connected to the [Peabody] Opera House. There was an urban renewal aspect to it, adjacent to Union Station. When we did the groundbreaking for that building, we had a few Blues players there [including Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan], and instead of shovels digging, they shot pucks into the building that was going to be torn down to make way for the new arena. They got all their pucks through the same window in almost the same pane. That was pretty cool.”

Wells Fargo Center — “We referred to it as Spectrum 2. The original building was a beautiful example of sports architecture done by [Skidmore Owings & Merrill]. They had done a number of facilities back in the 1950s and ’60s, including [Oracle Arena in] Oakland. They were pure examples of architecture that got a lot of bang for the buck. Spare design but great stuff. Spectrum 2 was more contemporary and it was really about making it a better facility overall for the patrons. It was different in character than Spectrum 1, but they kept both facilities for a number of years.”

Verizon Center — “The interesting story there was, being in the District of Columbia, it required review by a whole host of panels that had a say on the project, so it was a pretty extensive and laborious process to get it approved. What was fun about it was the connection with the Chinese community, the local neighborhood. On one side of the building, they had all the characters in Chinese, and on the other side, it was all in English. There’s also a private elevator that goes from the garage level up through the building to the owner’s suite.”

Pack 'Em In: Arena Capacity History

1917-18 2016-17
Biggest capacity Mutual Street Arena (7,500) Bell Centre (21,288)
Smallest capacity Montreal Arena, Quebec Arena (6,000 each) MTS Centre (15,294)

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research