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Closing Shot: Still Nifty At Fifty

When it comes to the shelf life of sports facilities, Arrowhead Stadium has bucked tradition, much like it did with its initial innovative design that changed the industry.

By David Broughton
Arrowhead Stadium has been the home of the Kansas City Chiefs since 1972.getty images

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepared to host the Buffalo Bills last weekend, Scott Radecic, the senior principal with Populous who played for both clubs during his 12-year NFL career, reflected on Arrowhead Stadium’s 50-year legacy.

 

In the 1960s, when cities were building stadiums designed to be shared by both an NFL and MLB team — or, in Radecic’s words, “developing donuts” — Kansas City opted to create the Truman Sports Complex, consisting of separate, side-by-side venues for the Chiefs and Royals. The concept, implemented by the small Kansas City architectural firm Kivett and Myers (there was no such thing as a sports-specific architect at the time), signified a first for modern-day sports architecture.

“The city, the designers, [Chiefs owner] Lamar Hunt had a vision that was unprecedented,” Radecic said.

A rolling roof was part of the original concept.Kansas City Chiefs

Multipurpose facilities compromised capacity and sight lines. The Chiefs’ new home that opened in 1972, on the other hand, was immediately seen as an industry standard for future venues in terms of fan and player amenities and revenue generation. One of the project’s designers, Ron Labinski, would go on to launch an entire industry devoted to such a craft. In fact Radecic, who earned a degree in architectural engineering at Penn State, worked five offseasons for Labinski before retiring from the NFL.

During Radecic’s rookie season with the Chiefs in 1984, team president Jack Steadman showed him the concept for the rolling roof that was part of the initial design, an element that was to be built on a set of railroad-type tracks and could be slid from one stadium to the other. Hunt believed that such protection from the elements would allow the city to host frequent Super Bowls. The idea was deemed too expensive, but now five NFL stadiums and seven MLB ballparks have a retractable roof.

“Even an idea that didn’t happen became a catalyst for designs at other stadiums,” said Radecic.

After the Chiefs’ 155-game sellout streak from their 1991 home opener to mid-2009, Arrowhead received a $375 million, Populous-designed renovation. The stadium has gained significant exposure in recent years. For example, during a 2014 “Monday Night Football” game versus New England, fans set the still-standing Guinness World Record for the loudest crowd roar at an outdoor stadium, at 142.2 decibels.

“Its longevity has been remarkable,” said Radecic. “The stadium is an integral part of the fan experience, the team’s revenue and the city’s overall global branding efforts. There aren’t many venues that can legitimately say that they are participating in all those.”

 

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