Fields of Dreams?

Football is one of the most obvious signs of the coming of fall. Starting the day after the Super Bowl, diehard fans eagerly count the weeks until such milestones as the draft, training camp and the first Monday Night Football game. But recently, some fans have had something else to look forward to—the opening of brand new, high-tech stadiums.

By Geoff Weisenberger, Production/Web Editor October 1, 2003

Football is one of the most obvious signs of the coming of fall. Starting the day after the Super Bowl, diehard fans eagerly count the weeks until such milestones as the draft, training camp and the first Monday Night Football game.

But recently, some fans have had something else to look forward to—the opening of brand new, high-tech stadiums.

Just this fall, a major retrofit to Green Bay’s Lambeau Field was unveiled, along with a controversial and expansive renovation of Chicago’s historic Soldier Field. And in Philadelphia, notorious Eagle fans were rewarded with brand new Lincoln Financial Field.

The new stadium trend isn’t reserved for football. Half of Major League Baseball’s teams are also playing in homes built since 1990. Most recently, the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati opened this past spring, while next year, the Phillies will play in a new home at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and the Padres will move into lush Petco Park in downtown San Diego.

So what is the driving force behind this stadium trend? “It has really been to address revenue-enhancing features and, of course, increase the fan experience,” says Allen Tochihara, P.E., principal, M-E Engineers, Denver, which has performed M/E and lighting work for many professional stadiums, including the Great American Ballpark, Petco Park and Lambeau.

In other words, it’s not just about the game anymore. To justify increased ticket prices, owners must treat fans to a more comfortable, aesthetically pleasing environment, provide more entertainment for the price of admission, and finally, provide free-agent athletes with an attractive, high-tech, world-class facility.

To increase stadium income potential, pro shops have become larger and offer a wider selection of merchandise; dining options have expanded from hot dogs and peanuts to more sophisticated and expensive dishes; and seating options have become numerous and varied in terms of price and comfort.

“I think the sports fans themselves have become used to these kinds of facilities, and they’re becoming more sophisticated and require more [from the buildings they patronize],” says Ron Turner, principal, NBBJ, Los Angeles, the design firm for Lincoln Financial Field.

Not only that, but baseball and football teams are tired of sharing, which is why all of the new stadiums are constructed for either one or the other, never for both. B.J. Van Vreede, business development manager for Minneapolis-based A/E firm Ellerbe Becket, which performed a portion of the design work for the renovations at both Lambeau and Soldier Field, notes that creating one-sport venues is also beneficial to the fan. “Both of these sports are so uniquely different in how you experience them that you really couldn’t create a fun or interesting atmosphere for either one [with a two-sport stadium],” he says.

Join the club

Perhaps the most obvious and lucrative revenue-generating tactic has been to enhance and expand club seating and luxury boxes in both new and renovated stadiums. Lambeau Field has seen its seating capacity increase several times since its construction in 1957. However, the newest and most ambitious stadium renovation has expanded the seating from nearly 61,000 to more than 71,000. This includes 10 new rows of club seats. And in recent years, expansions have brought the number of suites up to as high as 198, although the current number is 174. But contrary to popular opinion, Van Vreede stresses that the club seats and suite levels aren’t reserved for the wealthy, meaning the challenge for stadium developers is to create various levels of comfort at various financial tiers. “[The market] is taking those high amenities, and instead of making them so expensive and so exclusive, they’re broken into different zones so that different demographics of fans can take advantage of them,” he says.

Besides seating, restrooms have also become more numerous—and more spread out—at new and renovated stadiums. Men’s toilet facilities at Lincoln Financial Field, for example, have increased to one for every 58 users from one for every 319 at Veterans Stadium. More importantly, women are achieving “potty parity,” as is the case at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, where there are 20 public restrooms for each gender. At Lambeau, women’s toilets have jumped from 180 to 556. Increased numbers and strategic restroom placement cut down the distance from the seats and prevent restroom overcrowding. This is especially important in sports facilities, where large groups of people tend to take bathroom breaks at the same time.

Following other market sectors, such as airports, stadium restrooms have also become virtually hands-free in terms of toilets, sinks and hand dryers in an effort to address cleanliness, water conservation and maintenance issues.

Traffic flow considerations are also factored into new designs and renovations via expanded concourses. In Philadelphia, concourses have increased from 45 ft. at the Vet to as wide as 90 ft. at Lincoln Financial. Lambeau’s concourses, including a new passageway, have increased from 20-50 ft. to 50-120 ft. At Petco Park in San Diego, designed by Kansas City-based HOK Sport + Venue + Event, restrooms, concessions and other amenities are separated from the seating bowl by a concrete “valley” spanned by bridges.

Bells and whistles

But in truly telling the stadium story, enhancements to standard amenities are only the beginning. Stadiums are doing much more than adding additional comfort; they’re adding more entertainment and are doing it in a unique environment. New stadiums are defined by their own look, unlike what some have referred to as the “concrete doughnuts” of the ’60s and ’70s.

“There used to be a very strong industrial look in a lot of the stadiums and other commercial facilities,” says Jon Dommisse, director of marketing for Bradley Corp, Milwaukee, which provided restroom sinks at Heinz Field and restroom work at Lambeau. “That industrial look is giving way to a more residential look, where in the past, it was more like, ‘Let’s just put something that’s vandalproof in there.'”

In many cases, stadiums are even redefining neighborhoods. The proof is in cities like Denver, Houston and Cleveland, where new baseball stadiums have renewed blighted areas and created districts full of bars, stores and restaurants.

Petco Park, which opens next spring, was strategically placed in San Diego’s lively Gaslamp Quarter near the convention center. The stadium incorporates a historic building—the Western Metal Building—much like Camden Yards in Baltimore, with one exterior wall facing the field and one corner acting as the left field foul pole. Fans will be able to watch the game from balconies on the building and from the roof, while the bottom level will house a pro shop from where fans will actually be able to walk out onto the warning track—behind a fence, of course. The new home of the Padres also features the Park at the Park, an open green space behind center field where fans can enjoy the game picnic-style. The stadium is lush with vegetation, from flowers to palm trees, as it attempts to blend in with the verdant atmosphere of San Diego. “The design became a metaphor for the area,” says Bradd Crowley, project manager for Petco Park and a principal with HOK SVE.

The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, also designed by HOK SVE, features a limestone relief entitled the Spirit of Baseball and mosaic murals celebrating the Reds history, and the attached Reds Hall of Fame building will open next year.

Bye to the boom?

This handful of projects, however, may represent the twilight of the trend. “The boom is crested, and there are still some professional assignments left, but there aren’t many of them—certainly not like there were from 1990 until now,” says Van Vreede, noting that there is a finite number of teams.

There has been interest in new Mets and Yankees stadiums in New York, but so far, no plans have been set in stone. A new nearly $2 billion Jets stadium on Manhattan’s west side is also being considered as a key role in getting the Olympics to that city in 2012.

On the West Coast, Los Angeles is actively looking to bring the NFL back, and three proposals are on the table, according to NBBJ’s Turner. Two possibilities include renovations to the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl, and the third involves a new stadium proposed by the city of Carson, Calif.

Aside from the projects already under construction—including a new home for the Arizona Cardinals—the only certainty on the professional outdoor stadium front appears to be a new park in St. Louis for baseball’s Cardinals. The club hopes to break ground this month on a $400 million downtown ballpark with a target opening date of April 2006.

Of course, money is the key issue, and in a down economy, it’s difficult to find investors or convince the general public to pony up. In the Cardinals’ case, the financing is coming from multiple sources, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Banc of America Securities must nail down roughly $75 million in equity investors; the company that commits to build and own the stadium will borrow $150 million; the Cardinals will kick in $50 million; and St. Louis County will provide $45 million. The remaining cost will come from the elimination of a ticket tax, as well as from state tax credits.

Updating the updates

While the new stadium bonanza may subside for the time being, renovation provides opportunities, and not just for older stadiums. “I think the competitive nature of professional sports isn’t going to allow people to go much farther than eight to ten years without constantly improving upon the facility,” says Bradley’s Steve Zingsheim.

Carrie Plummer, brand manager with HOK SVE, concurs. “We’re doing a lot of work on facilities we designed not only five or 10 years ago, but as few as two years ago,” she says. In fact, one of the firm’s projects, Coors Field in Denver, which opened in 1995, has already seen upgrades. Space on the service level has since been converted into a lounge and connected to the home plate tunnel for use by patrons in the seats behind home plate. HOK performed similar work at the Royals’ Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, and is looking into applying the same arrangement at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Speaking of the Windy City, U.S. Cellular Field, which opened in 1991, is in the fourth year of a multi-year renovation that includes added seating; re-theming of the main concourse; and added and revamped concessions. “Technology, accessibility and security issues have prompted facilities to look ‘around the house’ and see where improvements need to be made,” says HKS’ Chris Lamberth, whose firm designed the changes to the White Sox’ park.

In Houston, the Texans’ Reliant Stadium has already seen the addition of more club seats and is poised for the future from a network standpoint. The facility employs a fiber backbone that can be accessed via a 2-ft. x 2-ft. space that extends from the service level to the roof. Additionally, there are large server rooms on every level of the stadium that allow the facility to move massive amounts of data at high speeds. “Essentially, you establish this really big backbone because you don’t know what’s coming along in the future,” says Don Richards P.E., associate engineer with Fort Worth-based Carter & Burgess, which performed the M/E/P and fire protection work for the stadium.

“The one way that stadiums designed today are different from the stadiums they replaced is flexibility,” Van Vreede adds. “When we design a stadium today, we are already thinking about how that stadium can respond to varying market trends.”

That wasn’t quite the case at Soldier Field, where team and city officials debated whether to build a brand new stadium or perform renovation work. “What you had was the exterior of a building—the fa%%CBOTTMDT%%ade and the columns that people were attached to—but an interior that was essentially crumbling and really a horrible place to watch football, let alone any other event,” says Barnaby Dinges, spokesperson for the Lakefront Redevelopment Project.

The Bears decided to split the difference by maintaining the historic exterior, constructing a brand new seating bowl and installing new building systems. These employ 2,500 plumbing fixtures, 36 miles of piping, 300 miles of electrical wiring, 14,000 lighting fixtures, 20,000 circuit breakers, two miles of cable trays, 1.25 million watts of sports lighting and over 800 televisions. The $606 million project also includes underground parking and 17 acres of new park land.

Of course, not everyone agrees that the design choices for Soldier Field were the best, and many in the industry and the public have voiced their displeasure. “A better choice would have been to demolish the old Soldier Field entirely and incorporate some of its features into the new design, using similar materials,” says William Pepoon, senior consultant for CCL Construction Consultants, Overland Park, Kan. “The juxtaposition of concrete, steel and glass in the new stadium is bone-jarring. And not well integrated, since from a distance it appears that a much larger, modern stadium looms behind the old Soldier Field.”

Alternate routes

While upgrades at the professional level should still generate work, A/E firms, like the pro teams they design for, should look to the college ranks for future development opportunities.

“I hope [the boom] continues, but obviously, it’s a finite market. What we’re seeing is that the market is changing to university projects,” says Tochihara, citing his firm’s recent projects at Georgia Tech and the University of Colorado.

Looking to the minor leagues is another route, as new minor league baseball stadiums also provide project opportunities.

But whether designers pursue new projects or renovations to college stadiums, lessons can certainly be learned from the pros, and notably, the Soldier Field experience.

Many stadiums of the past simply weren’t designed for system expansion, nor were they designed to be pleasing to the eye—or designed for fan comfort or traffic flow, for that matter. They were designed for watching the game. That is still their primary focus, but thanks to the stadium renaissance of the past decade, the game-attending experience has been enhanced, and new or renovated stadiums from this point forward should only continue to increase that experience and make a typical day at the ballpark anything but.

The New Face of Lambeau

This fall, Packer fans will notice a new addition—not unlike a wedge of cheese—jutting from their beloved Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

The structure is Titletown. A portion of major renovations to Lambeau Field that include expanded seating and suites, it is a perfect example of how stadiums have evolved from mere sports venues to multi-faceted, fan-friendly destinations.

Titletown is a five-story, 210,000-sq.ft. atrium that contains, among other things, team administrative and executive offices; player, coaching and training staff areas; a locker room, physical training and medical treatment areas; a hydrotherapy area; and even racquetball courts.

Named in honor of the Packers’ 12 world championships—including three Super Bowls—Titletown also houses the 25,000-sq.-ft. Packer Hall of Fame, which prior to the renovation, was located a mile away from the stadium and averaged 110,000 visitors per year since 1998. Also included in Titletown are two pro shops at 11,500 and 3,600 sq. ft.; the old Lambeau pro shop was 1,800 sq. ft.

By bringing amenities such as these to what was once merely a football stadium, the Packers have created a year-round tourist destination and retail environment. This is especially impressive and important in a city like Green Bay, as not only is it the smallest major professional sports market in the U.S. (96,000), but also, the stadium is not located in a downtown area or in a prominent retail/entertainment district.