Date: September 1, 2005

Architects are seeing a trend towards smaller arenas, more windows — with views both from the inside out and the outside in — and new partnerships among competitive firms in 2005 and beyond.

As Jim Rodems, general manager for the Stockton (Calif.) Arena for International Facilities Group, surveys what will be his kingdom when it opens in December, one of his favorite vantage points is overlooking the downtown harbor from the 348-seat club level. “I think, probably out of all of it, the club level has the potential to be very trendsetting for the area and very popular,” he said. The other side of the 10,000-seat arena is a glass curtain facade, an attractive view for motorists on the passing freeway interchange. Rodems’ favorite elements worked into the arena by 360 Architecture are the high-end features, including 24 luxury boxes and catering areas. “They really kept a lot of the nice larger arena amenities in it,” he said.

And this is the trend that Chris Lamberth, director of sports business development for 360 Architecture, is seeing nationwide — smaller arenas with bigger arena heart. “Even the smaller venues want to have the nice high-end amenities. They want to be able to have their clubs, everyone wants to feel special,” he said. “They all want to be state-of-art.” A second trend he is seeing is away from fortress-type venues. Arenas are opening up to the surrounding communities, becoming a part of an entertainment district, such as the new FedExForum in Memphis, which sidles up to Beale Street. “We’re making the area open not only during the day, but at nighttime there’s a glow. With a lot of this glazing and glasswork, you see this active building, people circulating in it and around it.”

There are limitations to the amount of natural light a building can have, however, he noted, since concerts and other events in the bowl still need lighting control. 360 Architecture is one of many firms that are forming partnerships on arena project bids. For example, 360 in concert with GBBN recently won the contract for a new $47 million arena at the University of Northern Kentucky. “I think you always have to find the right local mix,” he said. GBBN and 360 also partnered on Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

Rick Martin, senior principal at HOK Sport + Venue + Event, is seeing an overarching trend toward smaller arenas, downsizing from the 20,000-plus-seat caverns of recent years. “I think it might be a response to attendance and just that the professional tenants would rather have a full house every game as opposed to designing an arena that has the capacity you need during the playoffs. ItÂ’s more about creating an environment that’s loud and lively, giving them a home-court advantage or home-ice advantage,” he said. HOK is partnering with everyone in town — 360, Ellerbe Becket and Rafael Vinoly Architects — on the new 18,500-seat Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City, Mo., scheduled to open in Fall 2007.

One trend Martin is seeing there and throughout the industry is the technology that comes with title sponsorship. Sprint Center will have the latest telecommunications bells and whistles, including wi-fi Internet access throughout the venue. Another technology heavily in use by buildings-to-be is the live Webcam. Here are three: Galen Events Center, Los Angeles: Vector Arena, Auckland, New Zealand: McLeod Center, Cedar Falls, Iowa: DeVos Fieldhouse, Holland, Mich.:


In Louisville, long-term arena dreaming has become a task force endorsed by the governor. Twenty prominent business leaders make up the Louisville Arena Task Force. They have a self-imposed deadline of Oct. 1 to have a solid recommendation for the governor, said Chris Gilligan, communications director, Commerce Cabinet. Everything is still on the table, he said. Five committees are looking at design, use, site, financing and governance.

“The arena has been talked about for years to no avail,” he admitted, but this is different. Whether it costs $180 million or $250 million and regardless is whether it’s located on the fairgrounds downtown or in the suburbs, the goal is to get a solid proposal before the General Assembly when it meets again in January 2006, Gilligan said. The task force budget comes from the sports authority, their umbrella group. They have hired Stan Meradith, DLR Group, to produce preliminary designs, putting some visualization to the dream, he added.

Rob Wells, Duplin County Multi-Purpose Events Center, Kenansville, N.C., is knee deep in another trend in arena construction, the equestrian/expo/fairgrounds center that serves small town America in multiple ways. This $7.5 million building became a reality when the county scored an $11 million loan from the federal government, on condition it also build a federal/state/county office building. Multi-purpose is the keyword. “Duplin County along with its neighboring county, Sampson County, produces one-sixth of the world population’s food supply,” Wells said. That large agricultural base gave them leverage and put the events center into play, securing the loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Compass Facility Management is managing the new arena. Wells said the goal is to make an operating profit, though that won’t happen right away. The debt service, about $650,000 a year, will come out of the general fund, he said. This is not an enterprise-fund, profit-required endeavor. Universities are also fertile ground for new arena construction. St. Louis University has had a dream for years now. Fulfillment depended upon raising $35 million from donors, half of the total project cost. As of August, commitments had reached $22 million, encouraging organizers to suggest a tentative groundbreaking next spring with a fall of 2007 grand opening for their new 15,000-seat arena. Jeff Fowler, university associate vice president of marketing and communications, explains: “To raise $35 million takes time. We’ve been very encouraged the last six months or so. We kind of feel like we’re in the home stretch now.”

The additional $35 million will be raised by issuing bonds, and the plan is to pay back that debt through arena operating revenues, Fowler said. That’s the magic number their studies suggest can be supported, based on the local circumstances. With the 22,000-seat Savvis Center, St. Louis, and the 10,000-seat Family Arena, St. Charles, Mo., nearby, SLU’s pro forma is based on a conservative 75 event days annually, including men’s and women’s basketball, Fowler said. Unlike a lot of arenas that are aimed at downtown revival, this one is expected to revive Midtown St. Louis, he said. “We think it will be good for the entire area,” he said, adding that in the world of Division 1 athletics, it’s also imperative a college can show potential recruits a new facility on campus in which they will play.

SLU has 11,400 students total. Another $8 million comes from a TIF (tax increment financing) grant which benefits the entire area, which is known as Grand Center.

Interviewed for this story: Jim Rodems, (209) 948 3311; Chris Lamberth, (816) 531-3003; Rick Martin, (816) 329-4223; Chris Gilligan, (502) 564-4270; Jeff Fowler, (314) 977-2540; Rob Wells, (910) 296-2181