A rendering shows field-level seating at St. Louis City SC’s stadium, set to open in 2023. (Courtesy St. Louis City SC)

Flexibility in design creates an MLS stadium where fans can feel safe

Pitch-level loge boxes, upper-level terraces with city views and a two-concourse building are among the newest design features for St. Louis City SC’s new MLS stadium, which opens in the spring of 2023.

Project officials discussed those elements in a video conference call Wednesday with media outlets in which new renderings of the $400 million stadium were released for public consumption.

The pandemic has affected multiple MLS stadium developments, including St. Louis, an expansion team that pushed its inaugural season back one year. St. Louis City SC was originally set to begin play in 2022.

In downtown St. Louis, the initial stadium design, first sketched out one year ago, carries flexibility, extending from traffic flow into and around the building to a mobile-first technology system built from the ground up. 

Creating some wiggle room came as a big relief as the industry grapples with making venues safer for everybody. As it stands now, the stadium’s capacity remains at 22,500 with no plans to expand that number, said Matt Sebek, St. Louis City SC’s chief experience officer.

The pandemic essentially validated the team’s strategy first discussed a year ago about creating a contemporary venue that fans can step into and feel safe, Sebek said.

“We all kind of did what everyone did in March (thinking) ‘Oh my goodness, what’s going on,” said Eli Hoisington, design and senior principal with HOK, which teamed with Snow Kreilich Architects on stadium design. 

“We took a deep breath and said, ‘We’ve built the infrastructure.’ It proved the point of the concept. There are a lot of places to access the stadium, which in a post-COVID world, means the ability to disperse people.”

The design has evolved into stadium entrances at all four corners, along with the four terraces inside the facility with skyline views. Splitting the building into two concourses also helps with the social distancing aspect.

Some MLS stadiums are single-concourse buildings. In St. Louis, there was a lot of discussion about the concept, Hoisington said. Having two concourses will also help with distribution of food and beverage outlets, he said.

The pitch-level loge boxes, designed in groups of four seats situated below street level, will be among the closest seats to the action at St. Louis sports facilities, Sebek said. 

Hoisington said it became a “tightwire act” to create pitch-level seating and still keep FIFA regulations intact for field dimensions. The stadium’s east side drops 18 feet below street level and 28 feet deep on the west side.

All told, the stadium design calls for 15 to 20 different seating products, he said.

The supporters section on the north end, like some other MLS venues, takes inspiration from Borussia Dortmund’s “Yellow Wall,” in Germany and Craven Cottage in London, plus Providence Park, home of the MLS Portland Timbers.

St. Louis City SC officials will solicit input from supporters clubs to help with the layout of their section, Sebek said.

“We took little ingredients from those other stadiums and put them in this pot and recipe that we’re creating,” he said. “Our job is to create a platform and get the fans’ opinion on how they want those things to act.”

The addition of a festival-style pavilion outside the stadium on the south side is another new design element. It’s positioned as a year-round gathering spot that can be programmed with special events and watch parties.

“We’re designing a very open stadium,” said Julie Snow, design principal and CEO of Snow Kreilich Architects. “You can see into the building on game day even if you’re not attending the event and get a sense of the energy as you pass by and wander the district.”

Construction started this past spring at the start of the pandemic. The general contractor team of Mortenson and local firms Alberici Corp. and L. Keeley Construction has gone 262 consecutive days without injuries on site, said Sarah Narjes Mortenson’s project executive. 

Steel erection begins in two weeks. 

Early on, officials quickly adopted safety protocols to protect workers on site, Narjes said. There were some cases of laborers getting coronavirus, but there has been no transmission of the virus on site, she said.

“We’ve ridden three waves of COVID in St. Louis and the most recent one has been the most extreme, which is representative of Missouri in general,” Narjes said. “We’ve been diligent in our processes to make sure they can stay employed and provide for their families.”

St. Louis City SC’s stadium is among seven new MLS venues set to open over the next three years.