Stadium Profile: PPL Park

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The Facility: PPL Park, Chester, Pennsylvania. The 18,500–seat stadium opened on 27 June 2010 as the new home of Major League Soccer (MLS) team Philadelphia Union. The Union was confirmed as the 16th franchise of MLS in February 2008 and made its debut as the 2010 season commenced. The team made the move to PPL Park after having played its first two home games at Lincoln Financial (sponsor) Field, home of the National Football League's (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles.

The Companies: PPL Park's general contractor was TN Ward, while Icon Venue Group acted as project manager. Rossetti was the project architect and site work and surrounding development is being carried out by Buccini/Pollin Group, which is also a partner and minority investor in the team. The Vision: To re–establish and regenerate an old industrial waterfront and develop a world–class sports venue that would not only act as a home to the Union, but would also drive visitors to the area. PPL Park would also act as an important tool in establishing the identity and brand of a young sports franchise, with soccer–specific facilities seen as a key part of the development of MLS clubs. In the longer term further development will take place on the waterfront bringing retail, hotels, office and residential facilities in an attempt to make the area a live, work and play environment. The Sport Briefing spoke to Nick Sakiewicz, chief executive officer and operating partner of Philadelphia Union, about the development of PPL Park, which cost $122m–$7m over the initial budget. The opening of PPL Park is the realisation of a four–year dream for Sakiewicz and chairman of the Union, Jay Sugarman. Groundbreaking on the stadium began on 1 December 2008. The Design:" It's a soccer–specific stadium, so it is designed and built for international football. It holds 18, 500–seats and is expandable to 30, 000. It has 30 luxury suites, which are expandable to 60. It has two roof structures that cover the sideline seating, which is of a very common design that you would see in European stadiums of a similar size. It has a 13, 000 square foot club on the north end behind the goal, which is home to our club seat holders. There's about 1, 200 club seats in the building. " Another unique feature of the building is that in the south end, behind the south end goal, there are a section of seats that we have custom designed for our supporters. We have an interesting group of supporters named the Sons of Ben, named after Ben Franklin (one of the founding fathers of the United States). They became so big, so fast, that we had to design a section of seating just for them. In that section they have their own shell–type seat, because they stand a lot and don't like to sit. They have their own entry way into that section and their own concessions stand. The whole section is just built for them basically. " They helped us a lot in helping to bring the MLS to the area. We were competing with a number of other cities to bring the franchise here and they grew so fast, bought season tickets and really stepped up and made themselves be known. We have had a love affair with them since day one and have included them in everything we do, whether it's the name of the team, the design of the logo, the uniform colours or the design of the stadium. They have been very involved in our club and its been great and what football should be about. " PPL Park really is the cornerstone of the wider redevelopment project that is happening for Chester. It started a few years ago with a casino that was built up the road, as an initial anchor. We are about a mile and a half away and our building is an additional anchor to the south end of Chester. A little bit further west there is a movie studio that is being built. We're building these big anchors in town and then around them we are looking to create all the supporting development such as office and retail and improving the housing. It's really taking shape here, but it's a long–time coming. It took 50 years to destroy this waterfront and its going to take a while to revive it. But it starts with these big projects and really cleaning up the neighbourhood. " We will look to do another 10 to 20 sporting events, as well as music concerts. Another unique feature in the south end of the building is that there are about 500–600 removable seats and underneath there is a concrete concert stage platform. We'll be able to set–up and put on pretty good sized music concerts. " Challenges & Problems:" In the early days the biggest challenge came in October 2008 when the global recession really started. Lehman Brothers went down in October 2008 and we were closing all the financing at that time. So one of the biggest challenges was closing the financing during what was the biggest economic meltdown in the history of the United States certainly, and then it started globally. Once we got through that we were able to break ground and get the whole project funded before we ran into the normal course of construction challenges. " But what I will say is that the silver lining of constructing during the recession was that it helped us quite a bit with the budget. We were able to secure the best sub–contractors, and we got very competitive bids because a lot of companies were looking for work at the time. So while on the one hand the challenges were large in getting the financial package closed, once we secured that the recession worked in our favour in that helped to get the stadium built at a reasonable cost. " The opening date slipped slightly because of a combination of a harsh winter and the capital markets freezing up on the county's bond issue. This wasn't the fault of the county, it was just that Wall Street had shut down in the January of 2009. That delayed us about 30 days and then we had a really brutal winter. I'm convinced that the only reason we had such a brutal winter was that we were building a stadium!Next winter of course will be lovely, but yes that did hold us up. However, initially we were looking at a September opening and through the good work of our subcontractors and construction managers we were able to push it up to end of June. So in our mind we actually felt that we got into the building earlier than what it could have been. " The End Result:" The stadium has had rave reviews. We had huge media coverage in the week leading up to the game and the week post–game. Our president told me that we had more than $500, 000 worth of media impressions and close to 350 million impressions worldwide. We just got our fan survey back and it was all very high marks from food quality, customer service and sightlines. It helped that the home team handily won 3–1 and beat Seattle (Sounders), that always leaves the fans in a happy mood, but I couldn't be more pleased with the fan survey results. " I think having a soccer–specific stadium for a MLS franchise is mission critical. Any stadium for a football team defines its brand. Manchester United is Manchester United because of Old Trafford and the history that has been made there over the years. Tottenham (Hotspur) is Tottenham because of White Hart Lane and Chelsea is Stamford Bridge, so while the building as bricks and mortar is less important than the fans who populate it and the teams that play there, it really goes a long way to define the brand. Over time that building defines the brand and the team that plays in it, and there is no price that can be put on that. " You can play in someone else's stadium, and when we started in this league we played in a lot of NFL stadiums and frankly the teams became irrelevant in the marketplace because they were not playing in a home of their own. And by having a home of our own, we're relevant, our fans are relevant, we're a major league team – we sell out every game – and the media looks at us as a major sports franchise in this marketplace because we have our own building. So all sorts of benefits come from having your own building, not to mention the financial benefits. " I think the building will evolve over time, will grow in size. We'll add a lot of things to it, because that is the way we designed it, so it will be something that grows over time with our fanbase and hopefully we'll lift a few trophies in the building and continue to create the great memories that a football team can. " For further information about the development of PPL Park, visit www. philadelphiaunion. com. About The Sport Briefing This story was reproduced with the kind permission of The Sport Briefing. The Sport Briefing was published by PA Sport.

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