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Snapdragon Stadium: It’s so San Diego

New venue is designed to capture the culture, vibe and scenery of its Southern California home

By David Broughton
Garden areas around Snapdragon Stadium have exterior entrances and can be activated apart from game days.gensler

Snapdragon Stadium is everything that San Diego is and nothing that Qualcomm Stadium was.

San Diego State Athletic Director John David Wicker said that after playing in a cavernous, cookie-cutter venue since 1967, the school wanted something that represented the city’s many positive attributes.

“We knew going into this that we wanted a building where we can take advantage of the climate and the views and the San Diego culture,” he said. “Just throwing out numbers, I said that I wanted an indoor and outdoor venue that is 60% stadium features — seats, indoor concourse, restrooms and field of play — and 40% that is totally unique to San Diego.”

Beginning this fall, the Gensler-designed Snapdragon Stadium, a 35,000-seat venue that can be easily expanded to 40,000, will check all  of Wicker’s boxes.

The first impetus was to create a venue that is more intimate inside and inviting from the outside than the 70,000-seat structure and its sea of surface parking spaces that once occupied the site. 

“We set out to create an environment surrounding the venue that is reflective of San Diego,” said Jonathan Emmett, principal and design director at Gensler Sports. “The craft gardens will be one of the signature experiences of the stadium.”

Emmett said the gardens are “areas that might typically be a concrete concourse lined with restrooms and concessions inside, but are now a landscaped environment outside.” The spaces feature local eateries, have their own exterior entrances and could be activated on non-game days for anything from an SDSU class to farmers markets.

Snapdragon Stadium

Cost: $310 million
Tenants: San Diego State football; NWSL San Diego Wave FC
Architect: Gensler
General contractor: Clark Construction
Owner’s reps: JMI and Legends
Stadium operator: Spectra
Concessionaire: In house
Local nosh: Batch & Box; Best Pizza and Brew; Cali BBQ; The Crack Shack; Everbowl; Gaglione Brothers; Hodad’s; The Taco Stand
Video boards: Daktronics

Wicker said he wouldn’t be surprised to have 25,000 people inside the stadium on game day, and 5,000 to 7,000 outside in the community gardens.

Emmett said the stadium “has created a food and beverage program that doesn’t feel like you are going to belly up to concession stands that wrap a drab concourse. It plays on the neighborhood, casual, food truck culture that really is integrated into the San Diego lifestyle.”

Once inside the bowl, the Sycuan Piers, a series of platforms and decks that cantilever over the seating bowl, will likely become the building’s signature physical feature. Designed to reflect the city’s beachfront boardwalks, they are positioned so that everyone in the bowl and watching on TV will be able to see the 10,000 square feet of space that houses 22 loge boxes, standing room for 500 people, three bars and a concession stand. 

The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and Sycuan Resort Casino have committed $8.5 million for the naming rights to the piers and the Founders Club.

JMI Sports and Legends negotiated the sponsorship, as well as the 15-year, $45 million naming-rights deal and are handling sales of the premium seats. The field is named for Dianne L. Bashor, who provided a $15 million gift to help pay for construction.

Through Jan. 6, 57% of the nearly 28,000 premium and reserved seats had been sold, according to Wicker, with $32.7 million of a projected $52.8 million already committed. Additionally, he said the $310 million project is on time and on budget, and there are “a ton of deals just about to be signed.”

Spectra will be the stadium operator, giving the vendor its first presence on SDSU’s campus. Installation of two Daktronics video boards are scheduled to be completed by mid-March.

Looking ahead, San Diego has been mentioned for several years as a potential expansion market for MLS.

“We worked with SDSU from Day 1 to make sure this could be modified not only to exceed all MLS requirements,” said Emmett. The venue will be home to the NWSL San Diego Wave FC in 2023.

The stadium itself will be the anchor for the 166-acre Mission Valley mixed-use development. SDSU’s Innovation District, a public-private partnership that will consist of 1.6 million square feet in office, technology and research space, will also be on the site. Construction on that element, as well as 4,600 residential units, is scheduled to begin within a year.

The entire design — a strategically crafted combination of a scenic and fan-friendly exterior, unique and highly visible social areas inside, and the San Diego skyline — is made for mass media and social media. 

“Experiences are created,” said Emmett. “I think we are going to see more of these strategies, particularly among college football designs.”

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