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Published July 19, 2018

7 steps for building success

Planning athletic facilities used to seem so simple, at least in popular mythology: if you build it, they will come. But it is rarely so easy in the real world. 

Wesley Foundation construction project in Stillwater, OK, designed by Sparks Reed

With the earliest Greek stadia made for horse and chariot racing, designers soon found themselves fretting over the same challenges we face today: the need for multipurpose usage, adaptive acoustics, adequate seating, easy access, good traffic flow, safety, and all the evolving creature comforts restless fans seek. As cultures expanded and interests grew, these stadiums became ever more elaborate, their designs ever more alluring, until the structures themselves were embraced as landmarks, attracting as many events as they hosted.

While times and technologies have changed, and consumer expectations grow ever more diverse, stadium designers find those age-old concerns remain paramount. Arenas, ballparks, and nearly all other competition facilities must not just accommodate, but embrace, many different usages to stay active, and thus generate revenue, as many days as possible. From seating and acoustics to concessions and restrooms, stadium walls must suit everything from thunderous games and concerts to reverent memorials or a delicate string quartet. Designers must balance infrastructure capacity with environmental sustainability, structural stability with enchanting opulence. And since they often serve many different programs, stadium designs must prepare for and easily adapt to future needs. For no one wants to build a multimillion-dollar structure that may become obsolete within two or three generations.

How do you meet all these needs when plotting your own construction? Through seven simple steps:

1. Gather your support base.

2. Establish a clear goal.

3. Map out a master plan to reach that goal.

4. Improve that plan through careful research.

5. Gather supporters to fund the project.

6. Turn your goal into a concrete vision.

7. Build your dream.

This advice may seem a given, but to stress the point: 

Before starting any project, circle your wagons and gather together everyone needed to make this a reality. Cutting corners here often leads to failure. 

A good support base should include every resource required to complete all seven steps. Assembling that base starts with those who oversee the programs this stadium project will serve, and the staff that will oversee it. Then expand your base to include the architects who will design it, the contractors that will build it, the backers who will fund it, the consumers that will give it life, and the voices who will sell this project to the masses. Gathering a strong, united support base is imperative to getting any construction project off the ground.

"I have seen too many examples of projects run by competing camps," said David Reed, a principal and co-founder of Sparks Reed Architecture and Interiors. "The client in one camp, the contractor in another camp, and the design team split up into smaller camps, all fighting each other throughout the project. This is not the secret to a successful project but, instead, an unhappy client."


Create your goals by determining both your immediate and long-term needs.

Survey your support base to create a complete project goal everyone may endorse.

Here are some points to consider: 

  • Exactly what do you need now? What will you need later? What must the stadium/arena/etc. include now to best prepare for what will be needed later?

  • What is the best facility location for both today and tomorrow?

  • When must construction be completed?

  • What is the cost of what you want? For what you need?

Do not fret over small details to be worked out later. Focus on a unifying concept: a landmark that satisfies your immediate and long-term needs in a way that moves everyone who sees it. No cookie-cutter solutions here! Give your facility a unique character that embraces your past, yet inspires your future.

Next, go back to your support base to map out a clear, step-by-step way to achieve this goal.


The architects and contractors will help outline feasibility and market studies, zoning issues, and any other regulatory needs to hurdle. Your administrative and financial advisors will help you work out money issues. Outlining and arranging these steps into a flexible calendar schedule will map out your master plan. Then get started!

Through the steps that follow, you may work with your support base to finalize each part of the design. Use your building momentum as a positive force to strengthen that support base while seizing opportunities that come your way. Do not become rigid in a process that demands negotiation and flexibility. Keep your eye on the prize!

Do not skimp on your research.


Feasibility and market studies will help achieve your dreams while obtaining your best return on each dollar spent. Such research may reveal alternative ways to design or build your facility.


It may uncover unforeseen problems, environmental needs, material improvements, infrastructure system advances, useful tax breaks, and funding opportunities. It may inspire program changes, additions, or enhancements to cut costs or generate new revenues. And these studies will offer long-term evaluations on how this new athletic facility will impact your operational budgets.

Throughout this process: 

Maintain an active focus on just what this project means to your teams, your organizations, and your community.


Learn how to freely and fluently communicate that message, with all its exciting possibilities, for this will arm you for each challenge you face in achieving your goal. Capture and deliver that message through conceptual drawings, animatronics, public presentations, mailings, social media, and other interactive tools. All these will help you attract more supporters, garner more donations, and complete your project on time and budget.

Are you ready to get started?

Putnam City West High School football stadium construction project, designed by Sparks Reed.

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