Earthquakes Stadium slips again to 2015

After what has to be considered the most excruciating site excavation ever, the Earthquakes revealed today that their stadium’s opening date is slipping (yet again) to 2015. The stadium was originally supposed to open in 2014 after last year’s groundbreaking ceremony. Then it slipped to midseason as crews encountered difficulties clearing the former defense plant of underground concrete bunkers and various other surprises found on site.

The full scope of the site-related work could only be determined when the work was fully underway, and the site-related work has continued to take longer than expected. Beyond the complications announced in July, there have been additional complexities in connecting the stadium to the city sewer system, and the high water table has slowed the site utility phase.

“Projects of this size and scope often encounter delays, especially with the amount of demolition and site preparation we had to do. What is most important is that we build a great stadium that will stand the test of time for our fans and this community,” Kaval elaborated.

Despite the complications at the site, progress has been made on the project. Demolition and grading are now complete and the site utilities have been installed. Additionally, the footings are currently being placed. The next steps in the process will be the pouring of the foundations for both the stadium and team building, followed by the steel erection. The steel has been ordered through Schuff Steel and is currently being fabricated in Stockton. The team office building is scheduled to be erected in November, followed by the stadium bowl in late December.

Well, at least they’ve ordered the guts of the new stadium. It’s just amazing that the 49ers stadium, which is nearly four times the size and well past ten times as expensive, will open before the Earthquakes’ digs. All because the site was cleaner to start. Beware, all you who think you can build on brownfields quickly. Something lurks beneath the surface.

Earthquakes Stadium opening delayed until 2H 2014

If you’ve been following the (lack of) progress in getting the Airport West/FMC site ready for an 18,000-seat soccer stadium, you’d know that they been finding some interesting and unusual things in the excavation process. Just about everywhere there have been thick foundation work, underground facilities, and in keeping with the site’s previous life as a munitions manufacturer, bomb shelters. Both President Dave Kaval and Lew Wolff have been backtracking in recent months about opening the stadium in time for the 2014 MLS season, and today’s announcement makes it official.

Unfortunately, the news creates a bit of confusion for fans, who until now have been sold on the prospects of a brand new stadium opening in March of next year, not June or July. Quakes management has a bit of a mess to deal with at the stadium site and at Buck Shaw Stadium, whose capacity is barely more than half of the new venue’s. Kaval will have a Google Hangout at 3:30 today, in which he’ll field questions from fans.

Several other MLS stadia have also experienced opening delays, including StubHub Center (LA Galaxy home, formerly Home Depot Center), Sporting Park (Kansas City), Saputo Stadium (Montreal), PPL Park (Philadelphia), and Toyota Park (Chicago). Utah’s Rio Tinto Stadium didn’t open until the end of the 2008 season, and even the first soccer specific stadium, Columbus Crew Stadium, was delayed long enough (mid-May 1999) to have the team embark on a lengthy road trip to start the season.

It just goes to show that having a site considered “shovel-ready” isn’t enough. Sometimes you need more than shovels.

Falcons stadium concepts blow everything else away

And it’s not even close. 360 Architecture released two visions for the stadium that will eventually replace the still-young Georgia Dome. As Jason Kirk wrote in SB Nation, the whole thing is insane. Two concepts are being considered. The first is a fairly common stadium design called the Solarium. The catch is that instead of have the roof move on tracks to open a small sunroof, the roof and exterior walls are on hinges (with supporting tracks on the ends) that pull back to open a much larger area to the elements. The stadium also has a trick seating bowl where some of the corner sections collapse, allowing the end zones to be pulled in for a “tighter” basketball bowl.

The second concept, named Pantheon, is much bolder in terms of design, with numerous triangles that, when put together, resemble a very ominous spaceship. Key to the mindblowing nature of what 360’s done is that the roof opens like an iris. It’s beautiful to watch and at the same time very scary. Who’s coming in through the open iris, God or our new alien overlords (who I, for one, welcome)?

Either roof design presents some new practical challenges. Can the hinged roof reliably provide a weatherproof seal? That might be tough. And the iris design is completely new, novel, and unproven. It’s composed of eight separate triangular roof elements that overlap and appear to have their own motors and tracks. That’s an engineering challenge to put it lightly. 360 explains that this roof has smaller, lighter elements that move shorter distances, which should in theory make it cheaper to build and operate. Who knows, maybe it’ll work well? Then again, maybe it’ll work like the The Big Owe or the initially problem-plagued system at Miller Park.

Other innovations are being considered, such as movable walls that can allow suites to be resized on demand, and a club concept called “The 100 Yard Bar” with a display (and bar) that runs the full length of the field. (Check out the Georgia World Congress Center’s site devoted to stadium development for presentations by the GWCC and 360.)

No, this doesn’t change my mind that the Georgia Dome doesn’t need to be replaced. It’s still a perfectly good football and basketball venue. Of course, if either the Solarium or Pantheon get built, I’ll definitely hop on a Delta flight to Atlanta to bathe in the new ambience.

Earthquakes release seating bowl comparison

As the San Jose Earthquakes continue their drive towards a new stadium for the 2014 MLS season, team President David Kaval has been keen to release little bits of information every so often to tease fans about what they’ll soon be getting. Last fall, a brochure was distributed that showed suite options. Suites subsequently sold out. Now it’s cutaway drawings of the unique (for MLS) seating bowl, which also show some architectural elements that should get Quakes fans talking.

Buck Shaw Stadium, the current home of the Quakes, is small, quaint, and old. The intimate setting there creates a nice home field advantage, but it isn’t the best venue in terms of sight lines and comfort. The pitch of the bleachers is not particularly steep, making it hard to see the action over the heads in front of you.

To remedy that problem, and to create a stadium that didn’t look like other MLS venues, the still-unnamed Earthquakes Stadium will have a single seating deck with a 30° angle. To put that in perspective, that’s slightly steeper than the original upper deck at the Coliseum (~28.5°). With a vertical clearance of around 19 inches from one row to the next, seeing the entire field all the way to the touch lines shouldn’t be a problem. The suites and club seats are located at field level, and the bowl sits above them in a horseshoe shape. The steep seating arrangement will make the bowl rise rapidly, so much that it’ll look bigger than it really is. The comparison document emphasizes how close the first row is to the action, though it should be made clear that what they’re referring to is the first row of the suites or club seats along the sidelines. The supporters sections behind the southern goal should also benefit from being very close to the field.


The Earthquakes’ seating bowl arrangement creates a much smaller footprint stadium, which should be more intimate and less expensive to build.

Other MLS stadia frequently have a 21° pitch, which translates to a 12-inch rise per 33-inch row. That’s steeper than the Coliseum’s very gradually pitched lower deck (11°), and slightly less angled than the plaza level.


Truss system supporting the seating deck also includes a beam that carries the load for the roof, which should result in a less expensive cantilever.

In the cutaway comparisons, it’s easy to see how much smaller the footprint of the stadium will be compared to others throughout the league. Cleverly, the architects at 360 put together a truss system that supports the seating bowl and the roof. They accomplish this by taking an angled beam and extending it through the top row up to the center of the roof. The roof itself covers the entire bowl, which the Quakes say should help contain noise. There is a gap between the top of the bowl and the roof, but I expect that to be filled in by a press box and perhaps additional suites at some point. I haven’t run the numbers to determine the distances yet, but I figure that sitting in the top row at midfield will be similar to the experience of sitting in row 12 of section 217 at the Coliseum for a Raiders game – still a very good seat. Sure, Buck Shaw’s worst seat is technically closer. Buck Shaw is also barely half the size of the new stadium.

Finally, the truss system also creates a façade that juts out over fans as they enter the stadium. The cover image of the document shows a corner of the stadium, not covered by vinyl signs or cladding. Instead, the treatment used is a series of metal ribs that run horizontally. This is a brise soleil, a façade built to provide sun protection while allowing indirect sunlight in. A similar element was built to control sunlight coming into the San Jose City Hall rotunda, which has a large glass dome. Chances are that something – maybe signs – will go up there to give the stadium more color and a distinct image. Even if it doesn’t, the façade is better than chain link or overdone glass curtainwall. It’s unlikely that many of the elements in use for the Earthquakes Stadium would make it to an A’s ballpark, simply because the viewing angles are less demanding for baseball than for soccer. That’s just as well, because it’ll be good to have a unique look for a stadium that no one else has besides the Quakes.

USFL, reborn?

File this one in the out-of-the-box department. A new pro football league calling itself the USFL wants to launch in 2014. Like the original USFL, the new league plans to play its games in the spring. Unlike the 80’s version of the USFL, the new league has set it sights a bit lower and broader. The new USFL expects to launch with eight teams in markets such as Southern California and Alabama.

The kicker to the league’s business plan is that the USFL has inked a deal with an unnamed national developer to build “villages” containing a 20,000-seat stadium for each franchise and ancillary commercial development to go with it. If successful, the business model would turn minor league sports inside-out. Building a stadium has been hard enough in the past, let alone building stuff to go beside it. While it’s doubtful that the additional development can be built and filled quickly enough to help defray the stadium cost in every case, there’s a chance that there could be one or two shining examples. In the South or Texas, where regulations are lax and zoning in some cases doesn’t exist, this can be fairly simple. In California, where CEQA looms large over everything, it might not be such an easy task.

Going with a 20,000-seat stadium plan for each franchise and a single-entity operations model makes the new USFL similar to the launch of MLS in 1996. MLS took numerous years of billionaire owners like Phil Anschutz pumping in money to keep the league afloat, though that was with soccer, not football. Even with the more familiar sport, Americans generally haven’t taken well to lesser-talent football, finding that the NFL and NCAA FBS serves most of America extremely well. Only the Arena Football League has survived long enough to fill that minor league niche, though it experienced its own financial problems during the recession.

The potentially problematic thing about the 20,000-seat plan is that MLS has already filled numerous markets with that size of stadium, driving up competition for decreasing numbers of 20,000-strong outdoor events. In the USFL’s press release it has indicated interest in Ohio. Columbus could be a  spot but it has a stadium for the Columbus Crew MLS team. Cleveland, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, or Dayton may be better choices. Dallas and Houston also have those stadia, while San Antonio doesn’t. Alabama, Oklahoma, and Virginia seem to be ripe for this kind of thing, though the Virginia Beach UFL team hasn’t exactly made people sit up and notice.

If the UFL folds, the USFL would be poised to pick up the pieces and establish relationships. At the very least there will be some number of temporary stadia at which to play, though minor league football isn’t exactly the sexiest proposition. They’ll also be poised to become a feeder league for the NFL, a concept that generally failed to date (UFL, NFL Europe). The AFL has had a shaky record performing in this mode, and it plans to launch its own league in China in late 2014.

No element of the USFL’s plan is more mysterious than the partnership with the unnamed developer. It’ll be fascinating to see how aggressive each market’s deployment is, and whether each team is able to succeed quickly with its development goals. If it works, we may see many medium and smaller markets use this as an example on how to build the next generation of venues. If not, USFL2 will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Quakes to start building February 26

The San Jose Earthquakes are set to start building their 18,000-seat, $60 million soccer specific stadium on February 26, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Lauren Hepler. That comes four months after the venue’s world record groundbreaking ceremony.

Shovels set in the dirt prior to the October groundbreaking ceremony

The timing of the start of construction will give the Quakes roughly one year to complete the stadium. Major League Soccer’s regular season runs from the beginning of March until the end of December. The Quakes will want to do at least one preseason game that attracts as large a crowd as possible and another smaller event that it can use as a dry run. Plus there are those always fun “group flushing” tests and other tasks that need to be completed to properly test the facility’s readiness. A web cam will be placed at the site for fans to monitor construction progress.

Some smaller minor league ballparks have been built in a year or less, so it’s possible that the Quakes stadium can be finished in a year. By doing the bulk of the major work during the dry months, the last three winter months should be fine for buttoning up the building. Devcon, the same company working on the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara (along with Turner Construction), has long been tied to this project. If the progress in Santa Clara is any indicator, the Quakes’ new digs should proceed at a rapid pace. By comparison, Houston’s 22,000-seat BBVA Compass Stadium took 15 months to build, forcing the zombie-Quakes/Dynamo to play on the road for two months.

It’s funny that a stadium that will be about one-quarter the size of the 49ers’ stadium will also take 40% of the time to build. The Quakes stadium will be a far less complex building, with a single ground level concourse underneath the seating bowl. A long wait for the inordinately patient Earthquakes fanbase is nearing its end.

Black and Blueprint

At the end of yesterday’s 2-2 draw between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy, the Quakes’ shoo-in MVP candidate Chris Wondolowski headed to the supporters’ sections behind the north goal to do his ritual handshakes and celebration with the fans. A camera followed him over and suddenly, in view, was a large sign featuring a drawing of Lew Wolff’s head. The banner thanked him and John Fisher for, well, being the owners of the Quakes. There were no mustaches or devil’s horns drawn on the image, no effigies of Wolff hanging nearby. Whether it’s love is based on one’s perspective. Clearly, there is a level of appreciation among Quakes fans that isn’t being felt in Oakland, and perhaps never will. Being more tuned into what’s happening in Oakland, I thought my eyes deceived me at first. Thankfully, another observer saw the image on television as well.

That appreciation was on display earlier in the day, as the Quakes held their stadium groundbreaking ceremony on the other side of the tracks from Buck Shaw. 6,256 fans showed up at 1125 Coleman Avenue for what would eventually be declared a Guinness World Record for the most simultaneous participants in a groundbreaking. During the typically long __, Quakes President David Kaval thanked Wolff, his son Keith Wolff, and Fisher for bringing the team back and getting the stadium underway. That elicited hoots and hollers along with the expected applause. Lew was introduced and spoke briefly, thanking the fans. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and the City Council was there too, keeping the procession of dignitaries going.

Pretty shovels, all in a row.

Kaval and Quakes defender Jason Hernandez explained to the crowd how the groundbreaking was supposed to work. A large painted soccer ball was hooked onto the end of a crane. When the ball dropped and hit the ground, an airhorn would go off, signaling to the “crew” that it was time to start digging for two minutes. Thousands of commemorative shovels were stuck in the dirt field, which had painted lines and goals at each end. When the horn went off, the assembled crowd started digging. Since we were all in a fairly compressed space, many of us found that within a minute we had pretty much dug up most of the loose dirt in our respective vicitinities, leaving the next layer of hard clay to deal with. For me, that made the second minute of digging more a minute of manicuring. A countdown led to a second horn announcing the end of the two minutes. Public address man Danny Miller laid down a little suspense as he said that the Guinness people had to tabulate the crowd on hand. Miller announced “Six-thousand…” and was quickly drowned out by the crowd’s roar. Kaval held up a certificate in victory, and the masses started to depart.

Dig for two minutes and you get a free shovel.

It’s no secret that the stadium has taken longer than anticipated to get built. Whether it was concern over sponsorships needed to get it built or process issues like permitting, fans have been waiting long time for the first permanent, unshared home for the franchise to materialize. When AEG took the first MLS incarnation of the Earthquakes to Houston, Colts-style, after the 2005 season, a pall descended on the fanbase. The logos and branding would remain in San Jose, but there was no indication that a new franchise would materialize right away. AEG, which operates the Coliseum complex, Staples Center, and owns the LA Kings NHL team, is reviled in San Jose even more than Lew Wolff is in Oakland. Don Garber, the MLS commissioner who flew in to attend the ceremony, was AEG’s evil puppet and accomplice in December 2005.

Commemorative shovel

The expansion Quakes franchise took the field for the 2007 season, when Wolff and Fisher swooped in. For MLS, Lew Wolff and John Fisher represented enough money and local ties to keep the team going throughout what would be trying times ahead. Fisher may well have been the most interested person within the ownership group in getting a franchise. As for Wolff, building a stadium for the Quakes would be a good warmup for doing a much larger, more expensive stadium for the A’s, whatever the location. Wolff’s son Keith would focus on the details. As the recession struck and sponsorship dollars disappeared, the Wolffs pursued land deal concessions, which they received. The vision for the stadium was scaled back, then when the economy recovered, expanded. When the Earthquakes Stadium opens in March 2014, it will have been over 8 years from when the team was purchased to opening kickoff. If the Wolffs are tired of going through the “process”, the outward signs are slight. Still, Lew has talked about not being around for when a ballpark finally happens, and Keith has certainly dealt with enough that he may be gunshy about saddling up for an even bigger battle. Yet that’s what will be necessary if they want to get something built for the A’s. Maybe it’ll be in San Jose, maybe it’ll be in Oakland. However it proceeds, there are probably a lot of lessons from the Quakes stadium experience that are applicable for an A’s ballpark. Given how hard it is to get something funded and built in California, having that experience can’t hurt one iota.