Director of stadium operations Scott Paul (left) and team president Danny Morrison flanked by Dave Wagner of Wagner Murray Architects and Ron Smith of McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture.
CHARLOTTE – In 1986, Charlotte architect Dave Wagner was chosen by Jerry Richardson and his team to design Spartan Foods' new headquarters in Spartanburg, S.C., a company whose design department was headed by former Clemson linebacker Ron Smith.
Now, nearly three decades later, Wagner and Smith are teaming up for the first time, again with Richardson in the middle.
Wagner - a principal at Wagner Murray - and Smith, a managing principal at McMillan Pazdan Smith, are leading their firms through the major renovation process being undertaken at Bank of America Stadium, home of Richardson's Carolina Panthers.
"I remember Dave when he was designing the building for Spartan Foods," Smith said. "Around the time that started was around the time I left to start my own firm. We've known each other off and on since then."
But this is the first time they've worked so closely together, though it likely won't be the last. Wagner Murray - the architect firm in the Carolinas with the most experience working with NFL teams - and McMillian Pazdan Smith, a regional leader in college athletics architecture, hope to soon work together in the Panthers' original den, refreshing the suites at Clemson's Memorial Stadium.
"It seemed logical for us to team with Ron's firm," Wagner said. "Ron has had a long association with (Panthers team president) Danny Morrison and Jerry Richardson, which made it a good fit, and we've been associated with the Panthers off and on for the last 18 years.
"This is our first joint experience. It's a very amicable relationship. Our firms work well together."
Here are some thoughts from Wagner and Smith as their firms feverishly work toward the July 1 deadline for Phase One of renovations, a project that includes the installation of four escalator bays, new video boards, ribbon boards and sound system.
What is your firm's history with the Panthers?
Wagner: "We've had a long history with Mr. Richardson and the organization. I was the design architect for what was then called Spartan Foods for the headquarters in Spartanburg in 1986. Then in the early nineties when Mr. Richardson was pursuing an NFL team, he called and asked me if I wouldn't mind representing him with regards to how the project could be located in the immediate Charlotte region. I did everything from visiting potential sites to meeting with city and county officials. We were the architect of record for the interior of the stadium, and then over the years we just stayed in touch and when things needed to be done we jumped on it. For this renovation, we're designer for the escalator project and the video boards and are managing the ribbon boards and sound system projects."
Smith: "One of my first jobs of significance was at Wofford College, working for then-athletic director Danny Morrison, and I probably got that job because of having worked for Mr. Richardson. Our first project at Bank of America Stadium was the renovation of the strength and conditioning room (in 2011). The second phase was the locker room, training room and hallways and some of the position meeting rooms. Now we're working on the team meeting room, the continuation of position meeting rooms and the media areas, and we're the architect of record for the escalator project. That means we have the responsibility of having done the construction documents for the general contractor to build by, and we're helping coordinate with David and his group and the engineers."
How did your firms get involved with this project?
Scott Paul, director of stadium operations: "Let me take a crack at this one. For the master planning process, we put a committee together of some Panther employees along with Ron, Dave and with Populus, a national firm that had a history with us. Once we finished that plan and looked at what we wanted to do, we thought, 'Ron and Dave's firms can do the work.' We approached Ron and Dave, they thought about it and then got together and figured out a way to work together, and we all agreed to go forward under that umbrella.
"We think we've got the best in architectural firms from South Carolina and North Carolina who know Mr. Richardson well, know our brand well and understand our primary goal of improving the fan experience with these renovations. It has been a seamless working relationship."
What does it mean for your firm to be part of this project?
Smith: "It's a big deal to work on an NFL stadium, especially one in your back yard. Working with the Panthers now has given us instant credibility even beyond what our past resume does. It's an absolutely class organization down to the people that greet you at the games on Sundays."
Wagner: "When you do an NFL project, you have to put it in a classification by itself. It's very prestigious to work on a project of which there are only 32 in the country. It gives our firm a lot of high profile. If you've done work for the NFL, you're trusted to automatically be trusted to do work for 90 percent of the clients in the country because if you've worked for an NFL team, most people think you can do anything."
What challenges do you face with such a tight deadline?
Wagner: "It's kind of doing brain surgery and heart surgery at the same time on the same patient. This is the kind of project that requires instantaneous answers with the paperwork coming later, so we decided to let the fox in the hen house so to speak by putting Turner Construction Company's construction office in our office about 200 feet from the stadium. We have an army working 10-hour days and weekends to keep this project moving and on schedule. It's a big undertaking, but it has to be done, and we have a team committed to getting it done."
Smith: "What really intrigued me was the challenge that Mr. Richardson gave us to build this very complex structure in a short amount of time. Construction by its own nature is full of issues and problems when you have so many different subcontractors and you're trying to do things outside in the weather. There are always complications with a morass of issues and concerns and problems, and we've had to take what would typically be at least a year-long construction project and condense it into a few months and make it work like clockwork.
"It's been a great team effort from architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors and the Panthers organization to make this happen. It's been a lot of fun to see this thing work so well and happen as planned. It could be viewed as a model project going forward."
What is your vision for Bank of America Stadium once all is said and done?
Wagner: "The investment being made in Bank of America Stadium will put it in the pantheon of the best stadiums in the country. It's timeless and will last a long time.
"Once this and the future phases (to include concourse renovation, additional technology upgrades and stadium infrastructure projects) are complete, we'll basically have a brand-new stadium that will last another 15 to 20 years. We will have made a collective investment that's way under what the current cost of a new NFL stadium is – the average cost of a new stadium is one billion dollars. We are so far under that bar in terms of investment yet so far ahead of even these new stadiums in terms of design, fan accommodation, comfort, technology, et cetera."