The Pacific Northwest hasn’t had a stadium-building boom since Seattle’s Safeco Field and Qwest Field opened in 1999 and 2002, respectively. But dirt is turning in Portland and Vancouver, B.C., on major stadium overhauls, with hopes of more projects on the horizon. 

In Portland, gone are baseball’s AAA Beavers. While a sad day for some who grew up watching the various Beaver affiliates over the years, there is nothing sad about completely overhauling the 1926 baseball stadium (it did undergo a substantial upgrade in 2001). PGE Park, though, under the remodel will no longer be a fully multi-sport venue (it can still house Portland State University football), but billed as a soccer-specific stadium.

By eliminating the unique dimension needs of a baseball field, the $37 million project gives Portland’s Major League Expansion Timbers one of the finest homes in the league in time for the start of the spring 2011 season.

The renovation also lends the historic downtown Portland structure some architectural flair, especially with a new, cantilevered overhang, and gives the Timbers 20,000 seats for their scarf-waving fans. Getting rid of baseball gave soccer all it needed, with a completely turned field that allowed 3,600 more seats closer to the action and with better viewing angles.

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Greg Holloran, Turner Construction’s senior project manager, says, “(The overhang) presents some exciting construction challenges and will certainly put a new stamp on the facility, creating a great backdrop to welcome the second major league franchise to Portland.”

New seats are just a start. Turner crews also plan installation of a new Field Turf surface, a new public plaza, a 12,000-sq.-ft. sports rehabilitation center, a 1,000-sq.-ft. team store, concessions, restrooms, a 5,200-sq.-ft. club restaurant, community meeting rooms and viewing decks, not to mention amenity upgrades throughout the stadium. (See my story in this month’s Northwest Construction issue for more on PGE Park’s construction upgrade).

The intimate atmosphere has caught on in the MLS. It seems that everybody wants to go where everyone else is. And by making smaller stadiums, it gets easier to fill the seats and, therefore, keep them filled.

Just look north to Seattle, where the second-year Sounders FC of the MLS play in Qwest Field. To keep this NFL stadium intimate, the Sounders close down the third deck and limit the available tickets, in essence, working to create that intimate feel. And because the stadium is designed as football-specific, the slight modification helps turn it into a soccer stadium on Sounders game nights.

But Portland isn’t the only team getting an MLS expansion franchise in the spring. Vancouver, B.C., has the Whitecaps entering the MLS fray. And there, stadium hopping is the name of the game.

As Vancouver’s BC Place undergoes a major overhaul, complete with ripping off the air-supported roof of the 55,000-seat downtown dome in lieu of a retractable version by summer 2011, the Whitecaps are in stadium limbo.

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The squad will commence the MLS season in the temporary $12 million, 27,500-seat Empire Field structure (configured to 20,000 for soccer games). Designed by a European company specifically to serve the Whitecaps and other Vancouver events during BC Place’s renovations (see my story on Empire Field on Engineering News Record’s Web site), the Whitecaps will give fans a close-knit experience early on.

After a handful of 2011 games, the Whitecaps slide into BC Place, designed for about 20,000 seats when hosting soccer. But that isn’t where the Whitecaps want to be. They want to be more like Portland, obviously.

The squad continues to pursue financing for a proposed soccer-specific stadium on downtown Vancouver’s central waterfront and rail lands. While a final design and footprint hasn’t been charted, the team’s goal remains to be a “community gathering place” and a home for the Whitecaps and other events.

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So, until the Whitecaps get their personalized friendly confines, they will make due with newly refurbished digs at BC Place, which doesn’t sound too bad for an inaugural MLS squad. But it is the stadium upgrade in Portland that really will make a splash in 2011.