A grand staircase on the stadium’s east side will welcome supporters. (Courtesy Populous)

Populous emphasizes exterior lighting and a finned facade for MLS stadium

Final designs for FC Cincinnati’s $250 million privately funded West End Stadium revealed Tuesday take exterior venue lighting to a new level.

Scheduled to open in March 2021, the 26,000- to 26,500-seat venue includes a custom LED lighting program on each of the 513 vertical fins that form a wavelike external structure to enclose the stadium. The fins will help the stadium appear to glow when lit for evening events, said Populous senior principal Jonathan Mallie, director of the firm’s New York office and now the leader of the design.

The feature, which Mallie said has not been used in stadium design before, will allow motion sequences on the east facade. 

 “The idea of experiential graphics on the lighting effects will really change the experience of walking into the building for every spectator every time they come into the stadium,” Mallie said. “It is the idea of using lighting as a material with changeable properties.”

Each of the 2- to 3-inch-wide fins runs 18 inches deep and helps create an open and porous view from straight on but gives the exterior a solid appearance when looking down the length of the building, giving it “depth.” 

The venue, which will be one of the largest soccer-specific venues in Major League Soccer when it opens in less than two years, includes a 360-degree canopy roof to cover every seat. Along with the finned facade, the west exterior features a more traditional glass aesthetic for a smoother transition into the surrounding neighborhood. 

The site design includes a 30-foot-high grand staircase from Central Parkway on the east side to showcase the club’s supporters march. The 150-foot-wide staircase takes visitors up to a plaza where Mallie expects 60 percent of fans will enter the building underneath the twisted motion of the facade system floating above. 

Inside, Mallie created 4,500 premium seats with 59 suites, including two party suites and three field-level suites, and four premium club areas, each with its own design, amenities and hospitality options. The 59 suites for a soccer-specific stadium is nearly double the highest number elsewhere in the league — for example, Los Angeles FC’s Banc of California Stadium, which opened last year, has 32 — but research from British sports marketing agency Two Circles gave the team confidence it could sell the products. 

The bulk of the premium seating will be on the west side of the stadium. (Courtesy Populous)

The bulk of the premium product will be on the west side of the seating bowl. Along with two levels of club seats, it also features two levels of suites, including the highest suite level wrapping to the north and south ends. Mallie said that as interior designs in the next few months, expect to see specific narratives in each of the premium spaces linking to aspects of the city. 

The Bailey, the supporters section at the north end of the natural-grass field, includes 3,100 safe standing positions in a 34-degree pitch, rising to cover both seating levels of the stadium. The upper mezzanine — also pitched at 34 degrees to ensure that no seat in the stadium is more than 130 feet from the field — wraps around the other three sides of the venue for a completely enclosed bowl. Two video boards and two LED ribbon scoreboards wrap the mezzanine. 

The Bailey includes standing rails and the opportunity to fold down seats into a lockable position if the venue wants to hold events that require seating for all spectators. By going 34 degrees in steepness — matching the steepest in the MLS — and setting apart the ends of the stands from the rest of the bowl to create a visual focus, Mallie said, designers “really increased the intimidation factor.” 

“Particular to soccer, the supporters deserve a special place to view the game,” he said. Creating a continuous seating bowl for the rest of the venue allowed The Bailey to serve as the “prime focus, really creating an intense seating bowl experience.” 

Jeff Berding, FC Cincinnati president, said the team incorporated research and feedback from fans and executives around the league with the goal of setting a new standard in design and experience. “We firmly believe we’ve not only matched the league’s best but push the bar further and will deliver a superior fan experience for our incredible fan base,” he said in a statement at the unveiling of the design. 

FC Cincinnati joined MLS in March and plays home games at Nippert Stadium, the on-campus home of football for the University of Cincinnati. The new West End Stadium sits about two miles south of the university and one mile north of Paul Brown Stadium, the downtown home of the NFL’s Bengals.

In March, the team announced a switch from Meis Architects to Populous, designers of three of the league’s four newest stadiums, in Minnesota, Orlando and Washington, D.C. The completed West End Stadium design retains many of the same features seen in early renderings from Meis, including the staircase, canopy roof and lighting concepts. 

Meis previously told VenuesNow that his exit from the MLS project was tied to issues his group had with owner’s representative The Machete Group. Meis said that he was paid for his work and that FC Cincinnati kept his design intact.

“We had significant concerns about the management of the project and the direction of both the design and budget,” Meis said then. “We agreed to disagree and we were terminated. I wish FC Cincinnati well.”

Mallie said after Tuesday’s unveiling that coming into a project with set criteria served to force faster decisions. “We looked at that as a positive in terms of the structural basing of the building,” he said. “We looked to make improvements both to the seating bowl and the building’s exterior.” 

As FC Cincinnati moves forward on a building that officially broke ground in December 2018 with the start of site demolition of Taft High School’s Stargel Stadium, a team spokesperson confirmed that the club’s sponsorship executives, led by Vince Cicero, are actively actively marketing the naming rights to West End Stadium.