WHITE NIGHT: Beaver Stadium, shown during Penn State’s annual “whiteout” game against Minnesota on Oct. 22, 2022, will undergo renovations totaling more than $500 million. (AP Photo)

Project stands among most expensive in college football

Penn State University is moving ahead with its long-awaited refurb of Beaver Stadium and it’s a massive project.

The Big Ten school’s request for proposals hit the street last week for 10 architects to submit plans for a $496 million renovation of college football’s second-biggest venue, according to sources familiar with the document.

The RFP was issued to Populous, Crawford Architects, DLR Group, Gensler, HKS, HNTB, HOK, Overland Partners, Perkins Eastman and Trahan Architects. The timetable calls for Penn State to come up with a short list of finalists in May with interviews scheduled for June, sources said.

The project cost extends to an additional $50 million for  elements such as fixtures, furnishings and equipment and technology upgrades. All told, the $500-plus million investment stands among the most expensive college football stadium construction projects, along with Northwestern’s $800 million rebuild of Ryan Field and Texas A&M’s $485 million renovation of Kyle Field, completed in 2015.

Penn State, coming off a decisive victory over Utah in the 2023 Rose Bowl, decided to renovate the 106,572-seat stadium over potentially building a new facility at a cost of $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion, sources said. Populous came up with those numbers after completing studies comparing the cost to construct a new 100,000-plus capacity building with upgrading Beaver Stadium, which opened in 1960. 

At that time, the stadium’s capacity was about 46,300. Over the past 63 years, it’s been expanded multiple times, including a 12,000-seat addition completed in 2001.

Penn State hired The Nations Group as its owner’s rep, a role that extends to the consultant helping the school form a plan to finance the project before serving as the conduit between the architects and the general contractor.

Chris Nations, president of The Nations Group, told VenuesNow at this time he was not allowed to speak about the Beaver Stadium project. 

Apart from Penn State, The Nations Group is working on college football stadium renovations at Kansas, Air Force and Oregon State. In an interview in late 2022, Nations, a former college sports administrator, said in today’s environment overall, schools must change their mindset to expand stadium programming beyond six to seven football games a year to help justify and pay for the immense investments. 

“These projects are becoming more expensive and needed,” Nations said. “Most everyone is in a similar mindset that they’ve got to change because they’re leaving money on the table. Their stadiums are both falling down and not serving their people well.”

Regardless of market conditions tied to financing and construction materials, Nations said it behooves schools to start these capital projects now to sustain football stadiums over the next 30 to 50 years. 

“While we go through whatever it is over the next two to four years, it’s still going to be the same outcome,” he said. “If you don’t do something, what it costs you to do something five years from now, has exponentially more cost to it than interest rate risks. I try to get clients to look at it holistically and most of them do, because it’s a feather in their cap, and how they promote their university and themselves.”

In State College, Pennsylvania, the current project has been in the works over the past decade. The bulk of the improvements for Beaver Stadium focus on expanding the west side to include a large mix of premium seating, new concessions and restrooms and wider concourses, sources said.

Populous would appear to be the heavy favorite to win the job given its past work at Penn State, including previous renovations to Beaver Stadium, plus the design of $43 million in upgrades to the Lasch Football Building, the Nittany Lions’ practice facility. 

Scott Radecic, a senior principal and founder at Populous and a sports architect for 30 years, played football at Penn State. For several years, Radecic has been principally involved in future planning for the school’s sports venues, tied to a 20-year master plan issued in 2017.

But that doesn’t mean competitors such as HNTB, HOK, HKS, Crawford and DLR can’t overcome those stiff odds. 

HNTB, for example, has designed renovations to half of the Big Ten’s 14 football stadiums, including Michigan Stadium and the Ryan Field project, for which construction starts late this year. 

HKS planned improvements to TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium and FAU Stadium, plus Apogee Stadium, a new build for the University of North Texas that opened in 2011.

HOK has strength in Nate Appleman, the firm’s director of sports, recreation and entertainment. Appleman is also a Penn State graduate and worked under the tutelage of Radecic during the 13-plus years he spent at Populous before leaving to join the old 360 Architecture, now part of HOK.

Gensler designed San Diego State’s new Snapdragon Stadium, a multipurpose facility that hosts many events apart from college football. The 35,000-seat venue serves as the new model for college football stadiums hosting multiple events, whether it’s soccer, rugby, concerts, monster trucks or motocross races.

DLR Group is strong in the college space and Crawford designed Pegula Ice Arena, Penn State’s 6,000-seat hockey facility that opened in 2013. 

Overland, Perkins Eastman and Trahan are the outliers. All three firms have designers with plenty of experience planning football stadiums, whether college or the NFL. Overland employs about 10 architects that moved over from HKS over the past two years. Veteran designer Dan Meis is part of Perkins Eastman. Trahan has done a lot of work at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, where the company is headquartered.