BULL DURHAM: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, a favorite among minor league baseball fans, stands among Tom Tingle’s signature projects. (All photos courtesy Tom Tingle)
Designer played key role across sports, mixed-use projects
Tom Tingle has retired after a stellar 42-year career as a sports architect, the majority of which was spent designing arenas and minor league ballparks.
Over the course of those five decades, Tingle worked for the old HOK Sport, HNTB (two terms), The Freelon Group and DLR Group. His tenure extended to jobs with portable seating provider SPS and Skanska, a construction firm.
As an architect, Tingle’s signature projects included Spectrum Center, home of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets; Huntington Center, an 8,000-seat arena in Toledo, Ohio; and Adelanto Stadium, former home of the Class A High Desert Mavericks, a team that was owned by baseball’s Brett brothers and which represented Tingle’s first sports development.
In addition, Tingle, filling the role of lead architect, helped design Durham Bulls Athletic Park during his seven-year stint at HOK Sport. The 10,000-capacity stadium, which opened in 1995, consistently ranks among baseball fans’ favorite minor league destinations. Google gives the venue five stars, tied to 4,825 reviews.
In 1999, four years after the ballpark opened, Tingle helped plan the American Tobacco Campus next to the stadium. The $200 million campus is a collection of bars, restaurants and retail shops, housed among old cigarette factories in downtown Durham, North Carolina.
The campus helped revitalize Durham, a city of 285,000 residents. At the time, it stood among the country’s largest historic tax credit developments, according to Tingle.
Tingle had returned to Durham after running into his old friend Jim Goodmon at baseball’s Winter Meetings. Goodmon, who owned the Bulls, along with Capitol Broadcasting, a group of television stations on the East Coast, served as American Tobacco’s developer after acquiring the old Lucky Strike building as the campus began to take shape.
At the same time, Tingle was getting tired of being on the road all the time and missing his four children and their various activities, so he left HOK Sport, moved his family to Durham and became Goodmon’s consultant.
Over the past 25 years, the American Tobacco Campus has expanded to include luxury apartments, construction of the Durham Performing Arts Center, which ranks among the nation’s busiest theaters, and a small YMCA branch, plus multiple boutique bars and eateries.
The Durham projects stand among his favorite jobs, Tingle said, because he got to work on both aspects of the sports and entertainment district, starting with the ballpark. Along the way, he forged a close relationship with Goodmon.
Most recently, Tingle helped design renovations to player development spaces at Durham Athletic Park as part of Major League Baseball’s new requirements for upgrading minor league facilities.
“I told Jim he was almost like a second father to me, and we both choked up,” Tingle said.
Tingle grew up in Rock Island, Illinois and graduated from the University of Kansas. He initially worked for Schultz Kuehn, a small design firm in Davenport, Iowa, before moving to Kansas City, Missouri to take a job with the old McCoy Hutchinson Stone, which is no longer in existence.
In 1986, Tingle joined HNTB, working in general architecture, where he designed prisons for three years. He then switched to the firm’s sports practice, concentrating on minor league and college projects.
Shortly after the High Desert Mavericks stadium opened in 1991, an earthquake struck Adelanto, a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles. “I was scared to death it would fall down,” Tingle said.
It didn’t, and in 1992, HOK Sport hired Tingle to become their “minor league guy” after Earl Santee moved up to work on MLB stadiums.
Fast forward to the early 2000s and Tingle got a piece of the NBA arena development in Charlotte after taking a job with The Freelon Group, a minority-owned firm that teamed with the old Ellerbe Becket on the design.
Tingle returned to HNTB in 2006 as head of their sports practice, but got laid off in 2010 on the back end of the recession.
After spending two years with SPS, he jumped over to the construction side with Skanska in 2010. The general contractor had just completed building New Meadowlands Stadium, now MetLife Stadium, and wanted to pursue other NFL projects. Skanska never got one, due in part to several executives on the sports side getting promoted to corporate roles. As a result, they weren’t available to participate in job interviews, Tingle said.
“They wanted to go up against the big boys, but just didn’t structure it right,” he said. “I was there for five years, and after we lost the (SoFi Stadium job), they decided to shut (the sports group) down.”
Tingle’s experience in construction didn’t go for naught. Skanska did win some college projects during his time there, namely renovations to Kroger Field, Kentucky;’s football stadium, and Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena.
In 2017, Tingle joined DLR Group and helped the firm win the job to design Riverfront Stadium, a double-A ballpark that opened in Wichita, Kansas in 2021. The opening was delayed one year after the pandemic shut down sports and entertainment.
For Tingle, the project was bittersweet. Lou Schwechheimer, owner of the Wichita Surge baseball team, died of COVID in July 2020. The two knew each other well. While at HOK Sport, Tingle helped plan ballpark upgrades at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, during Schwechheimer’s 35-year tenure with the Boston Red Sox’s triple-A team.
“Lou was one of my favorite guys,” Tingle said.
One fond memory of the Wichita project sticks out for Tingle.
Early in the ballpark development and prior to the pandemic, Schwechheimer ran into Laurence Leavy at a Wichita State University basketball game. Leavy is otherwise known as “Marlins Man,” the guy wearing a bright orange Miami Marlins jersey who became a celebrity after being seen on television many times sitting behind home plate at baseball games across the country.
Schwechheimer told Leavy he wanted him to sit behind home plate for Riverfront Stadium’s first game, which Leavy agreed to attend. As it turned out, “Marlins Man” came back for Opening Day in 2021, after Schwechheimer’s death, purchasing an entire section of tickets and giving them away to local students, Tingle said.
Although he’s officially retired, Tingle, like many folks in the public assembly industry, has become a consultant. He’s currently working on an hourly basis with DLR Group to form a master plan for Northwestern Medicine Field, the Kane County Cougars ballpark in Geneva, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. The stadium opened in 1991 at a time when the Cougars were the first minor league affiliate in the Chicago market. The team is now part of the American Association of Professional Baseball, an official MLB partner league.
“It was a good run,” Tingle said. “I’m very lucky.”