The Vote…What's Wrong With Arrowhead?


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Jan 22, 2006
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The Vote…What's Wrong With Arrowhead?
Mar 20, 2006, 5:35:54 AM by Bob Gretz - FAQ

On April 4th, Jackson County voters will decide if the Truman Sports Complex will be renovated through an increase in the county sales tax. They will also vote on a new use tax that will pay for a rolling roof. In an effort to understand the basics of the issue, we visited with the Godfather of stadium architecture, Kansas City’s own Ron Labinski. Retired and working on lowering his golf handicap, Labinski was the project architect during the construction of Arrowhead and worked for 40 years in the sports architecture business. He created the local firm that is now called HOK Sport+Event+Venue and worked on dozens of projects in the NFL, from stadiums, to practice facilities, to Super Bowl sites. Labinski continues to work as a consultant, serves on the executive committee of the Kansas City Sports Commission and was the key designer of the current version of the rolling roof.

This week, we will address three basic questions involving the upcoming vote:

Today: What’s wrong with Arrowhead?
Wednesday: Why renovate; why not build a new stadium?
Friday: How is the rolling roof going to work?


Almost 40 years ago, Ron Labinski began his career in stadium architecture working on the design of Arrowhead Stadium. As the project architect for his firm Kivett and Myers and Denver architect Charles Deaton, Labinski learned valuable lessons that he carried through the next three decades.

After all the other stadiums and projects that he’s worked on in this country and around the world, his first one – Arrowhead – still holds a special place in his heart.

“It’s never really been duplicated,” Labinski said of Arrowhead “Parts of what were done have been copied, but nobody has ever built another stadium like Arrowhead. It was really the first of its kind, the first football specific stadium.

“What’s wrong with Arrowhead? There are two answers to that question. The first is that there is nothing wrong with Arrowhead and secondly, there are parts of Arrowhead that need to be improved and brought up to present day standards.

“As you sit in the bowl and watch the game, Arrowhead is one of the great experiences in the National Football League. The seating bowl, well, you can’t find any better and you can’t duplicate it today.

“It’s what you find behind the bowl, that needs improvement. All the facilities that support those seats need upgrading.”

Arrowhead opened in 1972 and set a new standard for football stadiums. Until then, stadiums used for football were either dual-purpose buildings (shared with baseball) or those designed for other uses like the Summer Olympic Games (the L.A. Coliseum and even the now gone Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.) The lone football-only stadium was Lambeau Field, which started as a grandstand and over the years was enlarged several times and cobbled together to form the seating bowl we know today. A nearly $300 million renovation of Lambeau was completed before the start of the 2003 NFL season.

Like any building used for 34 years, what was once shiny, new and in perfect order, now seems old, parts are outdated and systems are worn.

“It’s no different than if you owned a home that long,” said Labinski. “Things like plumbing and electricity are going to need to be updated. The roof needs to be redone. The windows need to be replaced.”

A house built in the early 1970s doesn’t have the closet space most families are looking for today. It also doesn’t have bathrooms or kitchens as big as homeowners want in the 21st Century, and those two-car garages just don’t cut it these days for folks looking for what now seems a standard three-car garage.

The answer to the question of what’s wrong with Arrowhead is simple: it needs to be updated and improved to keep step with today’s standards for stadiums.

It starts with the basics, like plumbing and electricity. The Chiefs have had trouble with both systems at Arrowhead and more problems are on the way. On a five-day a week basis, there are more people working in Arrowhead than ever envisioned by designers in the late 1960s. Consider just one part of the organization: coaching. When Arrowhead opened, there were 11 people working on the west side of the fourth floor in the team’s offices. That was nine coaches and two secretaries. Last season, there were 22 people working in that part of the building, forcing three coaches to work out of a converted concession stand on the club level and another handful of coaches had offices on the fifth floor in an addition to the coaching wing that was completed several years ago.

That increase in numbers can be seen across the organization. That has put more and more pressure on the stadium’s basic systems that have not undergone any major renovations since the stadium was opened.

Plus, those pipes and wires are 34 years old, in a building that has also gone through 34 Midwest winters that were not nearly as mild as the one we just enjoyed, and 33 Midwest summers. Rain, snow, cold, heat, all take their toll on exposed parts of the stadium, including plumbing and electric, as well as the concrete.

Arrowhead’s first level, where the stadiums locker rooms are located, is badly in need of updating. While the locker room that the Chiefs use on a daily basis is large enough, it’s not nearly the size of those in newer stadiums. The visitor’s locker room is one of the worst in the NFL today and the Chiefs know this because two of the other bad ones they see every year because they are in their division: Oakland and San Diego.

With so little room on the ground floor of the stadium, game days are a constant battle of human traffic trying to move through a single crowded corridor that’s even narrower than the concourses on Arrowhead’s upper levels.

Those types of problems are not always visible to the average fan, although he notices when the toilets do not work, or the scoreboards go out. But there’s plenty right in front of the fans that is also outdated:

Concourses: Arrowhead’s are approximately 32 feet wide. If you’ve ever walked those concourses during a Chiefs game you know how crowded they are and how it’s almost impossible to get around. Today, the industry standard is concourses that are more than double that width. Current renovation plans call for concourses that are 64 feet wide.

Restrooms: Right now, Arrowhead has too few restrooms and as any female football fan knows, there are not enough facilities for them. When Arrowhead was built, women were not considered frequent buyers of tickets to pro football games. That’s no longer true, especially in Kansas City where the Chiefs have a fan base that’s almost evenly split 50-50 between men and women. Currently, Arrowhead has one men’s toilet for every 152 people and one women’s toilet for every 138 people. The current renovation goal would make those numbers one for every 100 people for the men’s room and one for every 70 people for the ladies’ room.

Concessions: In the stadium business they use a measuring stick based on points of sale, i.e., where the line starts and how many lines are there. Anybody that’s gone for a soda, beer or hot dog at Arrowhead knows that the lines, along with the cramped concourses, makes getting concessions a chore. It’s been that way for years, which is one of the reasons the team installed TV monitors around the concession stands years ago, because so many fans were missing action. During the 2005 NFL season, Arrowhead had points of sale that worked out to one per 276 fans. Right now, the industry standard is one per 200 fans; current renovation plans better that with one for every 190 people.

Club Seating: About a dozen years after Arrowhead opened, Labinski designed the new football stadium in Miami, then known as Joe Robbie Stadium, now called Dolphins Stadium. One of the keys to making that stadium work financially for the Robbie family was club level seating. These seats open into the stadium bowl, but also allow immediate access to club facilities serving food and drink that are air conditioned in the heat and heated in the cold. It’s sort of a middle ground between suites and general seating that has proved very popular with fans throughout the NFL.

Labinski first conceived the idea of club seats in a proposed stadium for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League in the 1970s. They did not use the concept, but the late Joe Robbie saw the promise in Labinski’s idea and now every stadium that’s been built for football in the NFL since Miami has club seating.

Arrowhead has a stadium club and it has club level seating, but the two have never worked in concert. Under the renovation plan, the entire middle level will be enclosed around the outside of the stadium, creating a club that will circle the field.

“When it was done some 35 years ago, these were new standards that everybody thought were pretty good,” said Labinski of Arrowhead. “But by today’s standards, they just don’t cut it.”

If that’s the case, then why not build a new stadium? That’s the question we will address on Wednesday.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Never been there but sure looks like a great place to watch a football game.
CrossBones said:
Never been there but sure looks like a great place to watch a football game.
It is.....extremely loud!! And he's not kidding about the lines for's crazy!! :)
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