Tight timelines, future-proofing key to stadium upgrades


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During the construction of the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park, Gary Birdsall said his project team at the time found itself in a “peculiar situation,” when a historic building stood in the path of the planned outfield foul pole. 

“It wasn’t feasible to tear down this multi-story structure, so we needed an innovative solution,” said Birdsall, who worked at Bethesda, Maryland-based Clark Construction at the time of the project, which opened in 2001.

The result was a creative solution that required approval from Major League Baseball: A ball hit on one side of the Western Metals Building would be ruled fair, and the other side foul.

“This experience highlighted the importance of flexibility and out-of-the-box thinking in stadium construction, proving that even obstacles can be transformed into distinctive assets,” said Birdsall, now in the Denver area as the vice president of PCL Construction’s preconstruction sports division. 

The interior of a high end sports lounge at a stadium.

The Mastercard Lounge at Scotiabank Arena, one of the premium spaces renovated by PCL last summer.

Courtesy of PCL Construction

 

The Edmonton, Alberta-based contractor has constructed several high-profile North American stadium projects. PCL’s current projects include modernizing and upgrading several of them, including:

  • The $350 million Scotiabank Arena renovation project for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
  • The $300 million Rogers Centre renovation project for the MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays.
  • The renovation of Crypto.com Arena, formerly the Staples Center, in Los Angeles.

As with working on a historic building, these renovations require creative solutions to complicated problems. At the same time, the fan experience at stadiums has evolved, and so too have the renovation projects designed to upgrade the technology at North America’s biggest venues.

Tight timelines

When upgrading an existing stadium, PCL and other contractors have short windows of time during offseasons, which often means stretching out the project over multiple phases and years. 

Cranes and machinery move materials in the central bowl of a professional ballpark.

The Rogers Centre’s lower bowl in October. PCL removed and recycled 29.5 million pounds of concrete and steel in 13 days. The Blue Jays opening day in 2024 is April 11.

Courtesy of PCL Construction

 

Even then, the timelines can grow and shrink depending on if teams make the playoffs or if the arenas host events like concerts in the offseason.

“On stadium renovation projects, much of our work is scheduled during the offseason, however it inevitably extends into the season with necessary prep and cleanup,” said Dale Koger, vice president of PCL’s sports division, also based in the Denver area.

As a result, Koger said, PCL teams find themselves working within occupied facilities behind the scenes, while meticulously trying to not disrupt the buildings’ schedule.

Eric Hernandez, a superintendent for PCL’s California buildings division, said he’s seen those challenges on Crypto.com Arena’s renovation. The final set of upgrades to the venue, first opened in 1999, will include renovations to the main concourse and tunnel club as well as redesigned locker rooms for home teams. 

Headshot of Eric Hernandez.

Eric Hernandez

Permission granted by PCL

 

“This [schedule] uncertainty makes planning difficult for the trades involved, requiring them to work overtime, including six-day weeks and night shifts, to meet the deadlines,” Hernandez said. “The necessity for the construction teams to vacate and clean the site before each event, effectively erasing any trace of their presence, intensifies the time constraints.”

At the same time, Hernandez said he’s noticed a shift in stadium construction and design toward those shorter timelines and fluid initial designs.

“This requires our teams to be highly adaptable,” he said. “It appears this trend will continue, leading to even shorter schedules and a greater need for quick adaptation.”

Upgrading technology

In Birdsall’s view, the “fan experience has been revolutionized.”

The modern pro stadium experience isn’t just a ticket and a seat, PCL’s stadium builders said. It’s an immersive experience with high-resolution screens, massive score boards, increased luxury options, fast WiFi and improved concession experiences.

“Over the past few years, stadium construction and design have been profoundly transformed by technology,” said Koger. “One of the most significant shifts I’ve observed is the emphasis on ‘futureproofing’ — designing stadiums not just for today’s tech but for tomorrow’s possibilities.” 



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