The Great Stadium Shuffle

The Great Stadium Shuffle

Are you ready for some football? California sure is. Despite their beleaguered economic conditions, cities across the Golden State are now angling to get in on what has become one of the greatest stadium scrambles in its history. Los Angeles, City of Industry, San Diego, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Oakland are all vying to build new facilities in the hopes of luring either the Chargers, the 49ers, the Raiders, or another team altogether.

And architects are more than happy to help, proposing designs intended to make the facilities more appealing to teams, cities, and residents through better game experiences, greater flexibility, more money-making opportunities, connections to convention centers, and interaction with urban centers.

“The sports stuff is a catalyst for greater ends,” summed up architect Morten Jensen, a principal at Bay Area firm JRDV, which developed a CRA-sponsored proposal for a stadium in Oakland that could not only host multiple teams but also help revitalize its immediate neighborhood through a slew of related development.

Such innovations are vital for a building type that is still notorious for shutting out its surroundings with large parking lots, hulking masses, and relatively little activity, pointed out Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR). “The jury is still out on whether football stadiums are a net positive or negative for communities,” noted Metcalf. “We need a reinvention of the form to create a way of knitting them back into the urban fabric.”

Here’s what’s happening so far:


On August 9, Los Angeles City Council approved the framework for local developer AEG’s downtown stadium adjacent to LA Live and the LA Convention Center. Gensler is the architect. The project would be paid for by AEG with help from $275 million in tax-exempt bonds, which will also go toward tearing down the West Hall of the convention center and rebuilding it further south as “Pico Hall.” Populous has been named architect of record for the convention center project.


If the $1.2 billion, 1.7 million square foot stadium, Farmers Field, moves forward (in other words, if LA secures an NFL team), it will seat 68,000 to 78,000 people and have a retractable roof. Gensler is still working on the project’s environmental impact report and said it is looking at all sorts of lightweight materials for the roof, such as ETFE, along with a steel truss structure and an oval-shaped profile. The movable roof will enable the stadium to facilitate convention events as well as football games and other activities. So far only a few NFL stadiums have combined NFL and convention facilities, including Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium (connected to the Indiana Convention Center), St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome (part of the America’s Center), and Kansas City’s Sprint Center (Kansas City Convention Center).

The secret to making a stadium work in the context of both a downtown setting and a convention center, pointed out Ron Turner, Director Sports/Entertainment at Gensler, is connectivity. For the convention center that means merging entrances, walkways, and building profiles at all levels so “there’s a seamless building edge between the two, and they work together with as much synergy as possible.” In terms of the neighborhood, that means opening the building up to the sidewalk with glass corner atriums and additional openings, making the building “as transparent as possible and not heavy.” Other vital moves include “integrating how all the spaces on the exterior are treated to make this a seamless pedestrian flow…and creating interesting spaces between the buildings.” Gensler will coordinate with Danish firm Gehl Architects and local firm Melendrez Design Partners, who are overseeing a redesign of the Figueroa corridor streetscape for AEG.



Another project in the LA area has been put forward by LA-based Majestic Realty, which has proposed an $800 million, 67,000-seat stadium with three million square foot office and shopping space in the City of Industry, located about 20 miles east of LA. The project was approved by the City of Industry last year and unlike AEG’s plan, the project already has two approved environmental impact reports, proponents pointed out.

The stadium’s bowl, designed by Populous (AEG’s proposed architect of record for the LA Convention Center expansion, as noted above), would be built into a 300-foot-tall hillside on the site, in a scheme similar to the Hollywood Bowl, another LA-area icon, pointed out Populous Senior Principal Dan Meis. General admission would be located at the top of the hill, and club seats would be located in a freestanding building on the other side of the field. Lightweight structures around the bowl would house concessions and other amenities.

Building into the hillside would save a lot of steel, not to mention money, added Meis, who noted that the stadium is much less expensive than comparable ideas. The overall design, he said, takes advantage of the Southern California outdoor lifestyle with exposed decks, picnic seating, a retail promenade, and a sort of festival atmosphere around the concession and general seating areas. An adjacent shopping center would have outdoor walkways and an open air focus, similar to popular LA spots like the Grove and the Third Street Promenade. Shopping is rarely located next to a football stadium, but on the East Coast Patriots Place next to the New England Patriots stadium is one successful example, and another stadium-shopping combo will be underway next to the Giant’s stadium at Meadowlands Xanadu.


LA’s biggest competitor for a football team appears to be San Diego, whose Chargers—lacking a fleshed out plan for a new facility to replace outdated Qualcomm Stadium—are rumored to be considering a move to LA. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders is undertaking a three-city stadium tour, traveling to Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Denver, to get ideas from the Sprint Center, Lucas Oil Stadium, and Sports Authority Field, which are all known for enlivening their surrounding neighborhoods. According to reports, Sanders seems set to connect a new stadium to the city’s already-expanding downtown convention center with a retractable roof design.

“If we’re also going to use this as a fourth phase of the convention center, then a roof would have to be there as a retractable one so that you have certainty for weather," Sanders recently told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani said the Chargers have been discussing a downtown stadium with the city for two years. “We have broad agreement throughout the community—including from government, business, and labor leaders—that the downtown San Diego site is the right location for a new Super Bowl-quality stadium.” The goal now, he said, is to come up with a financing plan that “will likely include significant contributions from both the Chargers and the NFL, access at some point in the future to downtown redevelopment money, use of the millions in annual savings that the city will gain from no longer operating the aging Qualcomm Stadium, and the design of a multi-use facility that will anchor a sports, entertainment, and convention district downtown.”


An unsolicited proposal was also put forward this spring by San Diego firm dbrds (de bartolo + rimanic design studio) for a stadium in Downtown San Diego’s East Village Neighborhood (next to the Padres’ Petco Park and the city’s new downtown library) that includes a dramatic circular design inspired by the Chargers Bolt logo as well as a park and amphitheater that would act as an outdoor venue for conventions and other events.

“We felt the dialogue had really died down about the Chargers staying in San Diego, so we took a hands-on approach to infuse some positive energy and spark some debate,” said Pauly De Bartolo, a principal at dbrds.


The frontrunner for the new 49ers stadium is Santa Clara, where the 49ers have proposed a $987 million, 68,500-seat stadium designed by HNTB and located on an existing parking lot next to the Great America Theme Park and the 49ers team headquarters. Santa Clara voters approved the stadium last year as part of ballot measure J, although the project has yet to nail down its financing, according to 49ers spokesperson Steve Weakland, who said the team hopes to break ground on the stadium by January 2013 and open by the 2015 season. The city would pay $114 million toward the cost of the stadium, a public stadium authority would sell $330 million worth of construction bonds, and the 49ers and the NFL would pay the remaining $493 million.

In addition to its proximity to the theme park, the stadium would be located near existing light rail, bus, and heavy rail lines, and existing hotels, retail, and the city’s convention center, pointed out Timothy Cahill, National Director of Design for HNTB. While the field would not be used for conventions, its club spaces could be. The field would be built to accommodate additional sports like soccer as well as concerts, motocross, and other events.


The stadium’s design would get fans closer to the field by replacing the traditional tiered bowl with a tower of suites and club spaces on its west side and other club spaces distributed around the stadium. Openings in the stadium bowl would allow for exposed pedestrian plazas as well as views into and out of the facility. The stadium would contain large open concourses and a rooftop plaza above its club tower.

“It’s all about capitalizing on the location, the weather, and the views,” summed up Cahill, who added that the stadium would be LEED registered and contain solar panels and a green roof. The 49ers’ Weakland said the green focus of the stadium as well as the area’s public transit options (he estimated that about 25 percent of fans would opt for mass transit) could help offset the 49ers move to a more suburban location. But others are wary.


Although the 49ers openly favor Santa Clara, San Francisco continues to flesh out a plan to build a new stadium as part of its recently approved Hunters Point development, a 700-acre neighborhood transformation on the site of a former naval shipyard that includes a clean tech hub, waterfront parks, and commercial, residential, and entertainment uses. Like the Giants’ AT&T Park in Mission Bay the stadium would have impressive views of downtown and the waterfront, a far cry from the more conventional scenery of the South Bay, supporters pointed out.


According to Tiffany Bohee, Project Director in San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the stadium would measure 69,000 square feet and cost $900 million. Designs haven’t been finalized, but a rendering produced by the city using the 49ers specifications shows a field that would open up to the waterfront and be surrounded largely by dual-use fields that could be used both for park activities and for parking. Similar dual-use fields are now being employed at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, for instance.

According to Bohee, because the Hunters Point project has already been passed, the stadium is technically approved and ready to move forward immediately. The city would provide the land and infrastructure, and the team and Lennar Urban, developer of Hunters Point, would pay for the project, which Bohee noted could also be used for special events and could support another team. If approved, the stadium could be completed by the 2015-2016 season, but according to the 49ers’ Weakland, “right now our only focus is the sight here in Santa Clara. I would not call it a plan B. We have one plan A.”


Oakland officials have long been working on a plan to build a new stadium adjacent to the Oakland Coliseum, where the Raiders and Oakland A’s now play. The current plan, which is being championed by city councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and council president Larry Reid, would host the Raiders and the 49ers, as well as soccer and concerts. Its biggest draw, pointed out Kaplan’s spokesperson Jason Overman, would be its connection to the city: the project, which the city is now calling Oakland Live (a nod to LA Live), would also contain development opportunities in the surrounding area, which is currently underused but already contains BART, Caltrans, and Amtrak stations as well as Oracle Arena, home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

“Right now you’ve got 50,000 people who come in, come off public transit, watch the game and leave. There’s nothing for them to do; nothing for them to spend their money on in Oakland,” said Overman.

No plans have been finalized, but Oakland City Council has approved a $4 million expenditure for the stadium’s environmental impact report and design study. Prior to this, Oakland-based JRDV in 2009 put out a proposal for Oakland’s redevelopment agency that, like LA Live, would include a civic square as well as surrounding restaurants, retail, and office campuses. “It’s probably the site with the most undeveloped land in the U.S. that already has quite a few transportation nodes,” said JRDV’s Morten Jensen. “It has the potential for enormous economic growth.”