Extended Play

For the better part of the last two decades, city governments, urban planners and real estate developers have viewed sports facilities as a sure-fire way to spark revitalization. Yet, it’s not enough to plunk down a stadium and expect the community to rally around it. “Build it and they will come” may work in the movies, but planning a successful sports entertainment district requires a sophisticated approach.

Designers from Gensler’s Sports practice explain how to generate revenue and excitement when the home team’s not in town.

Image: The STAPLES Center and the Gensler-designed Ritz-Carlton Hotel & Residences and JW Marriott Hotel at L.A. LIVE

Core Strength

Contemporary stadium and arena development is a complicated game, requiring top-notch planning, mixed-use facilities and contemporary architecture. Unlike super-stadia of the 60s and 70s, marooned on acres of asphalt parking lot, today’s sports venue is just one component of a successful commercial and entertainment destination.

Moreover, where the single-sport facility of yesteryear drew crowds for just a handful of sporting events, the modern multipurpose complex draws fans year-round, for games, of course, but also for rock concerts, circuses and the Ice Capades.

The Right Mix

“Done well, there's nothing better than an arena or a stadium anchoring a mixed-use district. Botched, there's nothing worse than an arena or a stadium trying to anchor a mixed-use district,” says Ron Turner, FAIA, Gensler’s Sports practice area leader.

With three decades of experience and a lineup of international projects, Turner is a pioneer in sports venue design. Early on, he recognized the value in integrating bars, restaurants and clubs in sports entertainment districts. Turner knows firsthand that not only does the mix need to be right, but the flow of people — fans, diners, bar hoppers, concert-goers — has to be orchestrated carefully.

“When a major event lets out, you want people to stick around, but there have to be areas that transition people from the stadium, and there have to be places for fans to go to and enjoy themselves.”

Beyond the Turnstiles

“The key to making a successful venue is extending the home team’s brand beyond the stands and into the community,” says Jonathan Emmett, a Gensler Sports project designer. “Sports entertainment districts allow teams to showcase their brand in a myriad of ways,” Emmett explains. “Sponsorships, experiential stores and restaurants, even non-game-day events enable them to generate additional revenue streams and maximize team franchise value.”

These “new revenue sources” bear close attention, says Eric Randolph, a Sports practice project manager. Randolph and his colleagues point to team sponsorships, advertising and real estate development as other potential streams of profitability that reside outside the stadium walls and are an essential part of a comprehensive master plan.

Community Staple

These dynamics play out between STAPLES Center and the surrounding mixed-use entertainment district L.A. LIVE. Home to the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Sparks and Kings, STAPLES Center also plays host to concerts, award shows and political conventions.

Turner oversaw design for the arena and the initial concept for the greater sports and entertainment district. Located in Los Angeles’ South Park neighborhood near downtown, STAPLES Center was always conceived to revitalize that part of the city. Once a wind-blown stretch of auto dealerships and SROs, today the area is booming not only with entertainment, but also with high-end residential housing, retail, supermarkets and gyms. All of this is strategically developed along the Blue Line light rail.

Spanning six blocks and 27 acres, L.A. LIVE is also home to Nokia Theatre, Nokia Plaza and Club Nokia. The range of entertainment venues and events ensures that the district is always alive with activity.

Seamless Connections

Within L.A. LIVE, Gensler designed a number of projects, including Club Nokia and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel & Residences and JW Marriott Hotel, a 54-story tower with 1,001 rooms and an 80,000-square-foot convention facility. The dramatic form of the tower establishes L.A. LIVE as a downtown landmark, but the structure also deftly relates to both the urban context and Nokia Plaza, a one-acre, open-air event space at the center of the complex.

“When you stand on Olympic Boulevard, the glass façade allows you to see through the lobby,” says Kap Malik, lead designer on the project. “The eye goes immediately from the street to the plaza.” In addition to the transparent lobby, a hotel plaza surrounded by cafés and restaurants abuts L.A. LIVE’s central space. For pedestrians, the sequence of spaces seamlessly transitions from sidewalk to lobby to entertainment district.

Turkish Delight

Farther a field, Gensler is at work on a sports, culture and entertainment center in Turkey. The multi-purpose venue, Istanbul Super Arena, is designed to house 16,000 seats for major events. Built into a slope overlooking the Bosporus River, the arena’s bulk is minimized, and the roof, placed at the same level as the surrounding urban fabric, doubles as a park crossed with pedestrian walkways. Across the street will be a high-end district complete with movie theaters, boutique hotel, restaurants and bars. Wide bridges knit the new, sustainable project to the city.

As with stadium and entertainment venues in the United States, how the project becomes a catalyst for urban development is a result of solid urban planning. “Istanbul is just one of the greatest cities in the whole world,” says Turner. “By designing an arena sensitive to this context, we are able to create not only a world-class sports venue, but a cultural hub.”

Mimi Zeiger

Ryan Gobuty (Gensler—Los Angeles): Pages 1, 6
Gensler Project Teams: Pages 2, 3a-b, 4b
Gensler Staff While Employed with RTKL Associates, Inc.: Pages 4a, 7
Provided courtesy of Anschutz Entertainment Group: Pages 5a
Timothy Norris: Page 5b
*For detailed information, please roll over imagery on individual story pages.

See GenslerOn for our blog series on all things Olympic


Gensler Sports Contacts
Ron Turner (Gensler—Los Angeles): ron_turner@gensler.com
Jonathan Emmett (Gensler—Los Angeles): jonathan_emmett@gensler.com
Keith Fuchigami (Gensler
—Los Angeles): keith_fuchigami@gensler.com
Michael Wekesser (Gensler
—Los Angeles): michael_wekesser@gensler.com

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Download "Design Update: The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE" (pdf) to learn how L.A.'s sports-entertainment district gets its landmark.