HOK: The challenges, and rewards, of bringing new stadiums to the public

Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, incorporates the new open concept of sports stadiums.

Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, incorporates the new open concept of sports stadiums.

by Dan Rafter

Brad Schrock played sports — as many as he could — throughout his high school years. And as he worked his way through college to become an architect, he remained, in his own words, a “huge” sports fan.

That love of sports runs deep in Schrock’s family. His older son played college football. He has a younger son who played golf in college.

Schrock, then, is a natural fit to serve as director of the Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice at St. Louis-based architecture firm HOK.

Brad Schrock

Brad Schrock

“It never dawned on me when I was playing sports or when I was following my favorite teams during college that one day I’d be able to work on designing the stadiums in which these teams would play,” Schrock said during a recent interview with Midwest Real Estate News. “But now that I am doing this, it’s an amazing feeling. Working on these stadiums, finding ways to make them fit with and become part of their neighborhoods, is a challenge that is always exciting.”

Designing stadiums for professional and college teams has become a big business for HOK. And earlier this year, HOK demonstrated just how committed to this part of the business it is. The company in January completed the acquisition of Kansas City-based 360 Architecture, a 200-person firm that is known for the work it’s done designing sports, recreation, wellness, entertainment and mixed-use facilities.

Schrock is a former 360 Architecture principal who is now a new director of HOK’s Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice. This means that Schrock might play an important role in the development of a new stadium for the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.

Of course, plans for a new stadium for the Rams have to be approved first. But progress is being made.

In early January, a task force appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon unveiled the preliminary plans for an NFL stadium that would sit in downtown St. Louis adjacent to the city’s Laclede’s Landing entertainment district.

Prelimnary plans for the new stadium call for an open-air 64,000-seat facility with views of the famed Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis.

This will be far from the first stadium project for either HOK or the staffers who formerly worked with 360 Architecture.

HOK’s Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice has recently created the plans for the new stadium for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, the Rogers Place Arena for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and the renovation of Sun Life Stadium for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

The department also tackled the design work for Nationwide Arena in Columbus. This 18,500-seat arena is home to the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL.

A growing industry

Officials at HOK expect to tackle even more stadium work in the future. And that’s why acquiring 360 Architecture — a company known for its sports and entertainment work — made sense, said Rebecca Nolan, managing principal for the St. Louis and Chicago offices of HOK.

Rebecca Nolan

Rebecca Nolan

“360 Architecture has a wonderful reputation as a practice that has a passion for design excellence,” Nolan told Midwest Real Estate News. “The professionals at 360 Architecture are all about helping their clients succeed. It seemed like a natural fit for us. From the beginning when as a team we started working together on the integration plans, it was obvious what a good fit this move was for both companies.”

HOK Sports + Recreation + Entertainment will certainly face challenges as it takes on new stadium work. As Schrock says, stadiums today are expected to be more than just homes for sports teams. They need to be full-scale entertainment venues, offering activities for fans of all ages.

Just as important, these facilities need to be part of the community surrounding them. They can no longer be closed off to the public when games aren’t taking place. Community members expect these facilities to include shops, restaurants, sports-themed museums and other entertainment offerings that they can visit even when their home team isn’t playing.

Schrock poins to Nationwide Arena in Columbus as an example. That stadium sits on 85 acres that once housed a state penitentiary. This provided plenty of opportunities for a creative approach. Today, even on non-game days, the public can walk up to the arena and see inside it. They can see the scoreboard and the bowl where the students of The Ohio State University sit.

The new home for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons will feature plenty of state-of-the-art amenities.

The new home for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons will feature plenty of state-of-the-art amenities.

“In the past, stadiums were inward-focused. Today, you have to be engaged with the outside community. You need buildings that are transparent and open,” Schrock said.

The new stadium of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, on which Schrock also worked, is another good example. The concourse areas of the stadium — which function as normal concourses during game days — become public galleries on non-game days. The public can walk them to reach the restaurants, shops and entertainment options that are open to them even when the Red Wings are not playing.

“Stadiums need to be active participants in their cities,” Schrock said.

In Edmonton in Canada, where the new stadium for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers is now under construction, the final building will include a winter garden open to the public.

When a sports stadium project is done, and the resulting building does mesh with its surrounding neighborhood? Schrock says that this leaves him with a great feeling.

Schrock points to Coors Field in Denver as an example. Schrock worked on that project, and recently returned to Denver to watch a Colorado Rockies baseball game in the stadium with his children. Seeing the activity around the stadium, the many businesses that have grown up around it, still gives Schrock a sense of satisfaction, he said.

“Just to see what that ballpark has meant for Denver, it’s a powerful thing,” Schrock said. “There is a lot of responsibility that goes with designing a new sports facility. At the end of the day, it’s all about what they do for their cities. When they help a city grow, that’s an amazing thing. We all feel fortunate to be involved in that.”

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