After 13 years of playing at nearby Belton High School, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor announced that the premier firm in sports architecture, Populous, has been hired to design a football stadium for the Belton campus. The project will feature an innovative design in which the stadium will be built in conjunction with a new student union building, which will anchor the visitors’ side of the stadium.
Early estimates call for the stadium to carry a price tag between $20 million and $22 million. Planners hope to break ground on the project in early 2012, with the goal of having the stadium ready for play in the fall 2013 season.
The Populous name is well known in sports circles as the designer of such prominent, award-winning venues as Yankee Stadium in New York and Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center, Reliant Stadium and the new Dynamo Stadium in Houston. Populous has also worked with more than 120 colleges and universities across the country, having designed such projects as TCF Bank Stadium for the University of Minnesota, Rice University’s Autry Court renovation, and the University of South Carolina ballpark.
The firm, formed when HOK's sports division split off from the rest of the firm, rose to prominence with its design for Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1994, which earned the prestigious American Institute of Architects National Honor Award for Architecture. Populous repeated that feat two more times in 1995 with their work on Progressive Field in Cleveland and Hong Kong Stadium, becoming the only sports architecture firm to earn the AIA recognition three times. With offices in the United Kingdom and Australia as well as the U.S., Populous has become known as the leading designer of venues for football, baseball, basketball, and soccer around the world, specializing in structures designed to draw people and communities together for unforgettable experiences.
Lead architect for the UMHB project will be Earl Santee, AIA, who serves on the Populous board of directors and works from the firm’s office in Kansas City. During his 26-year career at Populous, Santee has become one of the most experienced sports designers in the world. His portfolio of projects have helped define cities and campuses; it includes such projects as the new Yankee Stadium, Target Field in Minneapolis, Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the Mile High Stadium renovation in Denver, Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio, and new ballparks for the universities of North Carolina and South Carolina. Santee became involved in the UMHB project through discussions with a friend of the university, Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane, Jr., who worked with Santee on the creation of Minute Maid Park and other projects over the last 15 years.
“This distinctive project will merge student life and sports into an authentic experience in the heart of the campus,” said Santee. “It’s more than just a football stadium – it’s redefining an entire campus community.”
The new UMHB stadium will be built near the center of the campus on University Drive, adjacent to the Frank and Sue Mayborn Campus Center. By locating the stadium near the Mayborn Center (which houses the university’s arena), the new student union building, and nearby intramural fields, planners aim to create a “student activity zone” surrounded by student residence halls and apartments.
“Our goal,” said president Randy O’Rear, “is to encourage students to become involved in many facets of campus life by placing these activity areas within easy walking distance of where our students live. We know that students who become involved in campus life are more likely to persist in their studies and graduate; we want our campus to be a place where our students are involved both in and out of the classroom in activities that help them learn and grow as we prepare them for successful lives of leadership and service.”
Plans call for the stadium to seat up to 10,000 spectators, with room for future expansions if needed. In addition to locker rooms, concession areas, and restroom facilities, the stadium will include a press box, meeting rooms, and suites for entertaining university guests. The stadium’s proximity to the new student union building will make it possible for the student union to form a backdrop behind the visitor’s stands; banquet rooms and student dining areas in the SUB will be strategically placed to incorporate views of the stadium interior to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for students and visitors to the campus.
The stadium will be the first permanent home for the UMHB Crusader football team, which has achieved rapid national prominence since its first season in fall 1998. Known as “The Cru,” the team has posted an impressive 121-32 win-loss record in 13 seasons. UMHB has won or shared eight of the last nine American Southwest Conference football championships and played in the Stagg Bowl in 2004. The team has made two other trips to the national semifinals and is one of only two Division III programs to have won at least one postseason game in each of the last seven seasons.
Coach Pete Fredenburg is clearly excited about “The Cru” getting a stadium of its own.
“Our team and our coaches are extremely excited about the prospect of playing our games at a stadium on campus,” said Fredenburg. “It is thrilling to see the renderings and to talk with Earl Santee about the project and see the incredible knowledge that he has about designing these facilities.”
“I think the stadium is going to be a great landmark for our campus,” Fredenburg added. “Obviously it will enhance our recruiting efforts for football, and I believe it will also benefit the recruiting efforts for the university as a whole.”