Hunt-Sundt JV Transforms Iconic Arizona State Sun Devil Stadium
In its 1958 debut, the Arizona State University (ASU) football stadium in Tempe was considered a cutting-edge facility. The landmark site of Sun Devil football has hosted conference battles, college regular-season games, bowl games and a Super Bowl. As a large-format general venue, it has welcomed concerts, film productions, a visit by a pope and a U.S. presidential address. Nearly 60 years later, this icon is undergoing a transformation.
The stadium reinvention project began in 2013 as part of a multi-phased procurement process, beginning with an extensive feasibility study and an athletics programming study. Project partners are a joint venture of Hunt Construction Group and Sundt Construction, Inc. Completed in 2015, Phase I involved infrastructure work and rebuilding the south end zone.
In Phase II, most of the work was done between the 2015 and 2016 football off-seasons, helping reduce the project's impact on student life. According to Sundt Senior Vice President and Southwest District Manager Ryan Abbott, "Hunt brought extensive collegiate athletic experience to the partnership; Sundt brought its expertise in building at ASU - building to meet the university's needs instead of the social infrastructure that already existed."
Designing the Stadium
The design and construction process overlapped to allow for a compressed construction schedule between football seasons. Architect Gould Evans and Hunt Construction began work on design in July 2014 and by November of that year, shovels were in the ground on the first of three phases. "Well over 100 professionals worked on the design side, including 24 architects and architectural designers," said Gould Evans Principal-in-Charge Krista Shepherd, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB. The stadium's design is intended to support many functions beyond football year-round. Design attributes include flexible exterior and interior spaces that can be used to support university, corporate and community needs.
When originally constructed, the stadium was built into the saddle of a mountain. "I'd say location certainly is its most unique feature," Shepherd said. "I don't believe there is any other stadium that is sited so uniquely against a mountain edge. This location is an iconic connection between nature, the campus and the city."
The speed of the project and collaboration among designers, owners, jurisdiction authorities and contractors pushed the team to work mostly electronically to review drawings and communicate, Shepherd shared. "Even though the documents to construct the stadium include 2,500 drawings and a 1,300-page book, you rarely see paper on a designer's desk anymore. So, if we'd relied on printing to convey information, we would have lost valuable time both at our desks and in the field," she said.
Every project has at least one major challenge. According to Sundt's Abbott, the Sun Devil Stadium reinvention has several. When the stadium was originally built, it held approximately 30,000 seats. The 1977 renovation increased capacity to 70,000. During another renovation in 1988, the seating capacity increased to just over 72,000 and brought varying levels of infrastructure upgrades, with structural designs that stitched some components together and isolated others. "We've had to be diligent in discovery, with an integrated input into the design," Abbott commented.
Since the stadium was constructed between two mountains and the Salt River bed, any work on the bowl had to be completed from the field side and the narrow fire lane on the west (under the upper bowl). The north end of the stadium is now constructed on engineered fill where the Salt River had eroded native soil when the Hayden Butte diverted its flow.
"We've also had to be creative in sequence, innovative in process and relentless in safety. Construction phases must be threaded between football seasons," Abbott said. "Our team had to construct what would be the equivalent of two average Arizona homes a day for 265 days straight to arrive at game day."
The project team also built a temporary structure to support the upper bowl on the west sideline while the lower bowl was completely replaced. The temporary structural bracing was then removed after new columns and seat supporting raker beam extensions were installed. "We've had to develop new and varied ways of aggregating long lead materials," Abbott noted," with an immense workforce (up to 617 at the peak), we had to be agile enough to accommodate better ideas in production."
The 490,000-square-foot Phase II renovation was completed in October 2016. Beyond reconstruction of the lower stadium bowl, the $162 million contract included new stadium seating with chair backs and cup holders, new concessions, upgraded restrooms and amenities, and new luxury suites on the east and west sides of the stadium. The 360-degree concourse level was raised 20 feet to increase views of the stadium, airflow and circulation.
"This project has not only improved the fan experience, but elevated an aging facility to the most technologically advanced stadium in college football," Abbott noted. "By next year, the stadium will have 785 wireless access points, 273 antennas and feature a state-of-the-art Wi-Fi network, which will significantly improve communications for the teams, fans and media."
Additional upgrades in Phase II include a large plaza deck attached to the main concourse and the top of the new Student-Athlete Facility at the north end of the stadium (complete with a kitchen, operations center, loading area and back-of-house operations area); a grand staircase at the southwest entrance to the stadium; and a new main concourse connecting the south end zone to the new plaza at the north via the west side, with greatly improved field visibility. The concourses are now open to the buttes and the fields, with seat backs on the west side of the lower bowl, a premium seating area and an additional section with seat backs. Seating on the east side of the stadium is yet to be determined.
According to ASU graduate and Sun Devil Athletics Chief Operating Officer Rocky Harris, there are some unique things about the project. "Rather than moving out of the facility, we are doing the work in phases and during the off season. It certainly made it harder for us, but we're working around it and in the end, it's better for the fans." Harris said another consideration for the phased off-season work schedule is due to the limited options for playing elsewhere. While other universities often elect to build new facilities, ASU has a very special natural setting. "Giving that up was not an option," Harris said, "and, we also have a unique egress situation which makes the construction even more challenging for us. There's only one way in and one way out."
Solar was also introduced into the stadium, including solar shading and solar panels for power generation. "We recently were named the most Sustainable Athletic Department in the United States," Harris shared.
Upgraded Technology Enriches the Fan Experience
From a fan connection perspective, the concourse will be a full 360-degree stadium for complete access between sections. "From a fan amenity perspective, we've created the Coca Cola Sun Deck, which holds up to 2,500 people for events before and after games. This off season, we will add a new state-of-the-art video board to dramatically improve the fan experience," said Harris.
Improved network connectivity is something fans appreciate, and it's also being done in phases, with the south completed two years ago, the west done last year, the north during this off season and the east section next year. Plans also include smart stadium technology. "For example, this will allow us to review parking lot access and load, as well as help us know how loud certain sections of the stadium actually are instead of just guessing. We are looking at this from an entertainment point of view as well," Harris commented.
Beyond football, ASU plans for future use of the stadium as a multipurpose entertainment hub. "We are contemplating any use of the facility that will benefit the community," Harris said. That might include international soccer, concerts, a farmer's market, food trucks, weddings and other family events. "We see some low-hanging fruit that makes it possible to use the stadium beyond just seven home football games a year. It's not just about what's going to generate revenue but what also will benefit the community," added Harris.
There are a large number of vendors and suppliers - more than 80 subcontractors for the whole technology upgrade. "The wireless access points are huge since the demand for the cellular network is tremendous. It's all about bandwidth for the entire facility," said Harris. The fiber optics also were a key part of the work, with video screens showing instant replays and action to promote the fan experience. According to Harris, additional needs for the venue also include data access, data storage and the ability to view multiple modalities, all important as the university uses the facility for education purposes or graduation/commencement.
In the end, the project could actually include up to five phases. Sundt's Abbott said that depends on how things fit into the off season. As project executive for the firm, Abbott leads the Tucson, Tempe and El Paso offices and is responsible for all of Sundt's ASU projects. Some of those include the Cronkite School of Journalism (223,000 square feet), Lattie F. Coor Hall (269,150 square feet) and the ASU Interdisciplinary Science & Technology Building No. 4 (298,000 square feet).
The stadium's technology upgrades also mean expanded broadcasting capabilities, allowing fans to be more connected to game highlights, player statistics, other sports and social media while attending an ASU football game. For the coaching staff and referees, there will be immediate access to replay and communications directly from the field.
"This project is an amazing convergence of the past, present and future," Abbott concluded. "I believe what we're constructing here has never done before."