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Stadium architect beats 'dark horse' status: Experience with other sports arenas wins HKS first pro football project

May 22, 2006

The imprint HKS Inc. will leave on the city with its design of the new Indianapolis Colts stadium will reshape downtown for years to come.

But the high-profile project is also significant for the Dallas-based architectural firm because it represents the first time HKS has designed a professional football arena. Any questions the selection team might have had about the firm's credentials were quickly put to rest, however.

"[They] came and visited and said, 'When you guys start looking for firms, give us a try,'" recalled Fred Glass, president of the Marion County Capital Improvement Board. "Candidly, they were a dark horse, but they ended up carrying the day."

The resulting design is a traditional brick-and-limestone building shaped in the mold of a classic Indiana fieldhouse-a square building with a sloped roof, which in this case will be retractable.

"We developed a unique look for the building that [officials] felt like was the embodiment of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana," said Bryan Trubey, the lead designer for HKS on the project. "We felt like for a half-billion dollars, the client should get something that is instantly recognizable."

The $675 million project is slated for completion in 2008, at which time the Colts' former home, the RCA Dome, will be razed to make way for a $275 million expansion of the Indiana Convention Center. A lead architect for that project could be selected May 23.

HKS, the fifth-largest design firm in the United States, since has been awarded a second contract to design a football stadium, for the Dallas Cowboys. But the firm is hardly a newcomer to the professional sports world.

Its portfolio includes indoor arena American Airlines Center in Dallas and baseball stadiums Ameriquest Field in nearby Arlington and Miller Park in Milwaukee. HKS also led major renovations to U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, home of the World Series champion White Sox, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

CIB invited the firm and competitors Minneapolis-based Ellerbe Becket Inc., Kansas City, Mo.-based HNTB Corp. and St. Louis-based HOK Inc. to submit proposals.

CIB chose HKS before the state took control of the project and handed oversight to the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority.

Mid-market needs

Each of the firms asked to participate, except HKS, has ties to Indianapolis. Ellerbe Becket designed Conseco Fieldhouse and HOK the RCA Dome and Victory Field. HNTB has a local office but declined to submit a proposal for the Colts project, Glass said.

HNTB currently is designing the new San Francisco 49ers' football stadium and competed against HKS and HOK for the project. Tim Cahill, vice president and director of design at HNTB, said HKS is well-respected in the architectural community. Selection of a firm to design a stadium often depends upon what ownership wants, he said.

"In the last few years, there have been a lot of stadiums built," he said. "Every one is different and each ownership group has things they want to look at. It just depends on the location, the clientele and the budget."

To be sure, local stakeholders chose HKS due to its willingness to accommodate the needs of a mid-market city such as Indianapolis, Glass said.

The 63,000-seat Colts stadium is smaller than the 75,000-seat Cowboys stadium and is highlighted by cuttingedge technology that provides a classicyet-modern feel.

The new venue in downtown's southwest quadrant will have more suites, 143, compared with the 105 in the RCA Dome. But what is unusual in this design is that the suites will be different sizes, ranging in capacity from four to eight people up to 20 people.

The smaller rooms should appeal to a business community that lacks a lot of corporate headquarters that can afford larger suites. The arrangement will enable the team to charge different rates, Glass said, and produce more revenue than if some of the larger suites sat vacant.

Once finished, Lucas Oil Stadium will host several NCAA Final Four tournaments and could one day bring the city a Super Bowl. HKS' design of a venue that can accommodate both football and basketball games helped sway selectors as well.

Trubey said he and his design partners listened carefully to what the Colts, the NCAA and the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association wanted, in order to come up with "some really cool stuff" to showcase the building's architecture.

Urban venue unusual

The stadium's downtown location-unlike many other NFL arenas in the suburbs-gave architects an opportunity to outfit the building specifically for an urban setting.

The positioning of the stadium within the block is angled and enables spectators to view the skyline when the roof is open. At the north end of the stadium, a giant window faces the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The 83-foot window will open like an airplane hangar but will be shut during games.

Local engineering firm Fink Roberts & Petrie Inc. is designing the seating bowl and is working with lead structural engineer Walter P. Moore & Associates Inc. The Houston-based firm is responsible for making the retractable roof work properly.

This will be the third NFL stadium to have a retractable roof. Walter P. Moore also served as the structural engineer for the Houston Texans and the Arizona Cardinals stadiums. The latter will open this fall.

The Colts stadium, though, features a roof that retracts toward the sidelines instead of the end zones. The advantage is twofold: The roof won't hang out of the edge of the building and conceal the design, and fans can feel a sense of inti- macy sitting under the stationary portion of the roof.

"So the design of this is unlike anything you'll see anywhere in the world," said Lee Slade, executive director of Walter P. Moore's structural engineering group. "From a functional standpoint, I think this will be as flexible as any building of its type."

The two 596-foot-by-163-foot retractable panels will weigh 1,100 tons each and be supported on steel wheels and arranged linearly atop two opposing sets of five sloping steel rails. In simpler terms, the wheels that move the panels work similar to what are found on in-line skates, Slade said.

To protect against leakage, the roof will feature a seal with a mechanized cap that closes and locks the panels together. The roof can retract in about 11 minutes.

Despite all the bells and whistles, only functionality really matters.

"When you push the button, the roof better work," Slade said. "So far, our track record is pretty good."

HKS was founded in 1939 and established a sports entertainment practice in 1993. Trubey said the Indiana stadium project gives the firm a chance to flex its skills among more established competitors.

"We definitely have the underdog mentality," he said. "We are not, nor do we want to be, the volume provider in the business. We want to get the really extraordinary, special projects."
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