How can a stadium connect with and enrich its surrounding neighborhood while keeping the focus squarely on the action on the field?
That’s just one of many questions Columbus Crew SC pondered as they conceived their new downtown stadium, and they offered another tantalizing glimpse of the results of that meticulous process in a “virtual town hall” update on Tuesday.
The venue is about 40% complete at present, on course for a midsummer debut next year, and its creators promise “a totally different atmosphere” from the Crew’s current home at MAPFRE Stadium – which debuted way back in 1999 – while preserving the proud history of the founding MLS club.
That starts with traditional soccer angles and steeply-pitched stands that bring spectators closer, in some cases much closer, to the field.
“The fans at the stadium are as close as possible to the pitch. The first row is eight feet closer to the pitch than at MAPFRE. And that cascades up to the upper bowl – even the upper bowl is 25 to 30 feet closer to the pitch than it was at MAPFRE,” said Matt Schuepbach, Senior Project Designer at design firm HNTB.
“So the whole notion of being on top of the action is going to be so intimidating at this venue.”
Like most modern arenas, Crew SC’s future home will be technology- and feature-rich, a distinct evolution from the down-home environs of the Ohio fairgrounds surrounding MAPFRE. Its location in the city’s Arena District – along the same Nationwide Boulevard axis as Columbus’ baseball and hockey facilities – will give spectators panoramic views of the downtown skyline to the east. But the soccer will remain at the center of everything, both metaphorically and literally.
“It was an intentional move from ownership that fans, when they're getting concessions, getting food, walking around the concourse, they'll still have a visual connection to the action on the pitch,” explained Schuepbach of the "patio"-style concept. “All of the concessions, all of the restrooms are pushed to the perimeter. So that allows that connection, no matter where you are, to be able to see the pitch.”
Like MAPFRE, the Crew’s rowdiest fans will inhabit the Nordecke supporters section above the north goal, with their own beer garden just behind the stands. Recognizing that the songs, chants, tifo and other aspects of supporter culture are part of the entertainment experience, architects adorned that zone with “terrace decks” overhead, standing-room-only areas where fans can take in those elements of the spectacle without necessarily being immersed in them. Elsewhere, “ledge” seats swooping out from the upper decks and fieldside vantage points await those seeking a premium experience.
Most fans will enter through the main entrance at the stadium’s southeast corner, where an outdoor plaza offers park-like spaces and a large viewing screen for watching away matches and other occasions, overlooked by the “Crew House” pub and a team store. To the west, where the Olentangy and Scioto rivers meet, fans can arrive on foot or via bicycle routes that connect to more than 100 miles of trails across the city.
The upper corners of the enclosed bowl have been left open to allow for views both from within and without. For the roof above, the Crew elected to play up their colors and crest elements while distinguishing themselves from the MLS norm.
“The predominant canopy is a white, sort of milky, transparent canopy. It's very iconic for these venues, but it's almost become ubiquitous in the league, and we wanted to just zig to the zag and try something completely different and really lean into the black in the Black-and-Gold, and create this almost ominous, iconic element overhead that really amps up the gameday atmosphere,” said Schuepbach, noting that the roof’s angled lines and diagonally-arrayed lights are inspired by the club’s badge.
“So the canopy, it covers every seat, which was the baseline, but it's metallic, so it's going to reflect all the energy and all the sounds in the seating bowl.”
The overarching desire: Creating an imposing home-field advantage for the Crew that also serves as a monument to a rapidly growing and evolving metropolis.
“Whether you're a casual sports fan or new to soccer, or whether you've been an ardent supporter of ours since the beginning, this is going to provide something for everybody, something that will add to your pre-match experience, your in-game experience and even giving you an opportunity to stick around to celebrate our team’s victory on the pitch,” said Crew executive VP & Chief Business Officer Steve Lyons.
“Really, as we think about the stadium and what it means to our community, we think it's going to be a source of civic pride. This is something that is our giving back to Columbus, created for Columbus, to celebrate the Crew and the a city, and all that the city and the team have meant to each other, not just for the last 20 years, but as we look ahead into the future.”