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How did Coliseum re-design run off the rails?

Was it the process, or the people involved, that got the Coliseum re-design off track? Or both?

So how did this happen?

How did we get here, where a design process involving so many over so much time about something as important as the future of what may well be the world's most historically important sporting venue get as far off the tracks as it clearly has?

What happened to the plan to save the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum? Why is it on its way to what many see will be a spectacular failure?

Not enough money? That's part of it even though the USC community of major donors has stepped up big time. Money isn't the major problem. If $270 million wasn't enough, USC has shown it could raise more. Someone did have to make that case, however.

Too many stakeholders? Or maybe not enough of them? Or not the right mix? Absolutely. All of those, as it turns out.

While the LA Conservancy folks were lobbying for an unchanged outer wall of the great stadium, maybe its least preservation-worthy feature, and keeping the sight-lines from the museums free of press boxes and cantilevers, not enough were lobbying for the inside.

You know, the sight-lines, the seats populated by the most loyal of fans over the last half-century, all those things that really matter for watching football. Which after all, should have been the heart of the issue here.

Was this one of those "too many cooks spoil the broth" deals? Of course it was.

As we've documented over the last year here, you had people looking at their own issues -- how do we sell the big bucks boxes, how do we make it attractive enough for them to dig deep, how do we keep the Conservancy folks from going postal on the National Historic Landmark designation, how do we put out this fire over here and that one over there?

This was never going to be an easy process. As the Coliseum General Manager and USC VP Dan Stimmler wrote to a USC alum expressing his dismay with the way things are going last week as he described all the challenges for USC noted above.

"After years of careful consideration and review [of] numerous design options, we came up with the current renovation plan that we believe best preserves the Coliseum's historical significance and greatly improves the in-stadium experience for our fans." Stimmler wrote. And concluded with the hope that "you'll agree that the renovated Coliseum will be a source of pride for all Trojan fans to enjoy for decades to come."  

Not if there's a better plan out there, like the one we offered last week. Not if it wasn't necessary to cut the capacity by 16,000 and the sideline seats by a full 25 percent. Not if it wasn't necessary to play the 2018 season in a construction zone with re-seating required for every single fan -- USC and the Rams -- for both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Not if it could be done quicker, cheaper and still address the unfinished end zone and Peristyle plaza.

Again, how could this happen? Well, there's plenty of blame to go around. But here's our take today. Let's say USC hires a charter bus to get one of the teams where it's supposed to go. And maybe the directions aren't all that clear. Or even a bit contradictory. But if that bus gets lost, runs off the road, hits a wall or just doesn't get to its final destination on time -- or ever -- it's the bus company that will ultimately get the blame.

They're the experts. They're in charge. And it's their responsibility.

So the focus maybe should shift from USC and the LA Conservancy to the DLR Group, the architects on the Coliseum project. Nice folks. Very familiar with USC. Handled the Heritage Hall and Marx Tennis Stadium renovations and the folks in charge several years back were well-pleased with their work.

The only problem, unlike the acknowledged handful of leaders in stadium design and renovations, DLR really doesn't have a major stadium in its portfolio. Nor does it make last year's Top 10 list of stadium architects. Which surprised us when we checked, but there it is: No. 11: DLR Group.

Wouldn't the world's most iconic stadium, looking to host an unprecedented third Olympic Games require one of the top stadium design firms? 

So that got us to thumbing through the annual Building Design+Construction listing in 2016 of the Top 50 Sports Facility Architecture Firms by rank, name and revenue, to see what everybody has been doing. 

Here's how they stack up: 1. Populous $113,741,160; 2. HKS $81,220,737; 3. HOK $58,589,000; 4. Gensler $42,850,000; 5. HNTB Corporation $13,419,171; 6. Cuningham Group Architecture $10,238,235; 7. Moody Nolan $9,800,000; 8. Sink Combs Dethlefs $9,719,919; 9. VOA Associates $9,577,715; 10. Stantec $8,654,844. 

We'd actually heard of the first five having been in many of their stadiums. Populous, an offshoot of the original HOK group, did the London Olympic Stadium, Wembley Stadium, the new Yankee Stadium, not to mention 31 Super Bowl venues and a total of 2,000 projects the last 30 years worth more than $40 billion. So many, they have to alphabetize them by "stadia", "ballparks" and "arenas." Some of our favorite college football stadiums they've designed start with the Kyle Field expansion to 105,000 that USC modeled its Founders Suites after, Baylor's brand-new McLane Stadium, Gillette Stadium, FedEx Field, the new University of Minnesota stadium. When it comes to stadiums, the Populous people lead the way all over the world.

But they're not alone. HKS, with an office in LA, has Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the Cowboys' AT&T Stadium and now the new US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, to their credit. But they're going to be more remembered hereabouts for the new LA Rams stadium with its innovative "without-walls" design and ability to expand capacity from 70,000 to 100,000. Also like the way they updated TCU's 1920's Amon Carter Stadium adding 27,000 new seats and thousands of club and box seats.

Kansas City-based HOK, with a big LA presence, has earned praise for its rebuild of Washington's Husky Stadium that stayed true to the look and feel of that iconic 1920's venue and already in advance for the under-construction Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta where USC can only hope it finishes up the 2017 season in the CFB Playoffs national championship game. HOK also did MetLife Stadium in NYC/NJ and is serving as a consultant on the $400 million Notre Dame Crossroads Expansion project. 

Gensler is doing the new $250 million, 22,000-seat LA Football Club Stadium next to the Coliseum in time for the 2018 season. And Santa Ana-based HNTB had the honors for the $321 million Cal Memorial Stadium renovation with a press box/private suites structure that would work in the Coliseum as well as the highly praised $226 million expansion and suites at Michigan Stadium.

As you can see after the first four or so, there's a pretty big drop down to No. 11 and DLR with its $8.4 million in revenue. And by the DLR website of the first 125 or so projects in their portfolio, it's pretty obvious they're not exactly a sports stadium specialist.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. There's neat stuff on the DLR website. There are 24 K-12 schools, 17 non-sports college buildings, 16 commercial/industrial projects, 10 hospital/healthcare facilities and courthouse/government buildings, There are hotels and malls (seven each), plazas and mixed use (six of each), five fire/police/jails, a couple of museums -- one with the Smithsonian, theaters and libraries, even an airport and a zoo.

uscfootball.com/Dan Weber
But DLR's only other major college football stadium that we could find was a $55 million addition to Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium back in 2003 that expanded box suites from 28 to 56 and replaced the press box and put in a new access road and entrance. Smaller college sports projects include Houston's on-campus 40,000-seat stadium along with baseball stadium renovations at LSU and Virginia, a soccer stadium for Creighton and several solar energy updates on NFL stadiums.

So when people ask how you could end up with a design like this, well there's not a good answer. There's little history in college football for downsizing a major stadium so drastically. Nor is there an answer to this question from a close observer of USC's re-design.

"Sure, you see people occasionally take out seats [when they re-do a stadium] but you never see them take out the best seats. You take out the bad seats." We didn't get a good answer to why this design does that some 18 months ago when we asked the DLR architects about it at a USC Marshall School of Business real estate seminar which turned out to be more about real estate -- prime Coliseum real estate -- than we would have guessed.

But on the DLR website, they do say this about the Tower structure that will eliminate at least 9,000 of the best seats in the Coliseum and replace them with a building for 2,200. "This new suite deck will be inserted seamlessly into the existing stadium bowl," is the way DLR describes it. "Seamlessly." Really?

Like in the Wizard of Oz when that house landed "seamlessly" on the Wicked Witch.

They then say: "The modernized Los Angeles Coliseum will remain the historic Coliseum in look, texture and impression . . . ." And again, we ask . . . really?

But there's something else we'll ask of Pres. Max Nikias, VP Todd Dickey, AD Lynn Swann and Coliseum General Manager Stimmler.

Why not get a peer review of the project as it stands right now. Call on one or several of the top architects at those companies we've listed above who specialize in this kind of work. We understand that's something that happens all the time.

Get another set of expert eyes on this. And do so right now. There's still time to save the Coliseum. And to do everything and more you want to do with the re-design. You're not locked in here. Not if you don't want to be.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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