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Meet the Design Team Behind the Stadium on the Brazos

“We wanted a dramatic visual identification that would help people understand the moment they arrived at Baylor University.” – Sherri Privitera and Jeff Spear

 

AS THE SENIOR ARCHITECT and project manager for the design of McLane Stadium, Jeff Spear and Sherri Privitera worked closely with a collaborative and diverse team from Baylor University to create what USA Today described as “the most beautiful set-ting in sport,” helping to build “the new front door for the university and for Waco.” Millions of people drive by McLane Stadium on Interstate 35 every year, and most agree that it offers unique brand awareness opportunities for the university and a reason for visitors to stop and enjoy what Waco has to offer.

Spear was the lead stadium designer for the McLane Stadium project. During his more than twenty-five years with Populous, he has become a design specialist in professional sports stadium architecture and collegiate athletic facilities, including BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, University of Minnesota TCF Bank Stadium, and the home stadiums for the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, and Washington Redskins.

Privitera is recognized as one of the leading female architects in the sports-facility industry, and managed the McLane Stadium project for Populous. Through-out her 18-year career, Privitera has worked with more than fifty universities on more than sixty-five projects.

The final project was the result of a visionary and collaborative design process with Baylor, one that involved, at various points more than one hundred individuals from the university, including development, facilities, student activities, marketing, and beyond, as well as involvement from the City of Waco and a number of community groups.

Spear and Privitera took time out of their busy schedules to reflect on the successes and challenges of building what they’ve described as a the “new iteration of the traditional football stadium…a living, breathing hybrid of next-generation tailgating, connectivity, revenue-generation opportunities, and brand opportunity.”

What were your objectives in designing the stadium?

Jeff: Our primary objective in designing McLane Stadium was to create an iconic new home for the Baylor Bears—one that would engage students, interact with the city of Waco, and become a destination in central Texas. We wanted a dramatic visual identification that would help people understand the moment they arrived at Baylor University while traveling along 1-35. We tried to encapsulate the entire Baylor campus

experience into one grand piece of architecture that would make that statement to visitors and become an incredible place to gather and experience college football on beautiful fall Saturday afternoons.

What did day one feel like, when you saw fans and players actually “using” what you designed?

Jeff: It is hard to describe the emotions on opening day. There is one thing that stands out among the rest of the memories from that special day, which is the first running of the Baylor Line. To see all the careful thought and design that went into making that a real-ity was particularly awesome.

Sherri: Opening day was magical. Seeing fans excited to experience Baylor football as they always deserved to experience it and hearing their comments about how the stadium exceeds their expectations was a feeling I will never forget. The first fifteen minutes before kick-off was surreal, and it felt like time slowed down as the crowd noise and music vibrated through the entire place.

How was this experience different from other stadiums you designed?

Jeff: The Baylor Line is like no other experience I have ever been involved with or had to accommodate in a building. It was surreal to see all the pieces come together. People walking across the Umphrey Bridge, sailgating, the Bear Walk, sitting on the amphitheater steps, tailgating, moving through downtown to the site —our vision and Baylor’s vision for how that stadium would bring together the community was unlike any other. The stadium had the backbone of a strategic master plan that was reflective of the goals of the university, the city, and the team, making the stadium possible.

What’s the one thing that you’re most proud of relative to McLane Stadium?

Sherri:Exceeding everyone’s expectations—specifically Coach Art Briles. I think everyone who was there on opening day was in awe of the stadium experience and realized how monumental it was for Baylor. I’m also so proud of the entire team involved—working with the University was such a positive experience and we built lifelong friendships—and I’m so proud of our internal team who made this vision a reality.

What was the best decision you made during the design process (i.e., the features you pushed for that others resisted)?

Jeff:We had many conversations about the recruiting room and the location of it. At Floyd Casey, the recruiting room was located on the main concourse, and while that worked well at the Case, it didn’t work very well at the new building because the building configurations were very different. So there was hesitation about putting it on field level—something that hadn’t ever been considered by Baylor before. But in the end, that recruiting room has become an absolute asset and a defining feature of the stadium. What recruit wouldn’t love that view and experience?

How (or did) your experience with the Baylor project (and the people) change you?

Sherri:Baylor was a special experience for most, if not all, of our design team members, myself included. We were involved with the project for more than three-and-a-half years and during that time, formed professional relationships as well as meaningful, lasting friendships. Waco, in many ways, became our home, too. The experience proved to me and others that the design and construction process is more suc-cessful when you respect one another and as a team, see challenges as opportunities. Opening day was spe-cial, and it’s wonderful having the project complete, however it’s been an emotional transition. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime project because we were involved in impacting a community!

A project like this would seem to require skill in consensus-building and negotiation. What’s your approach to that?

Sherri: Building consensus in a project like this is about listening, clear communication, follow-through, and collaborative leadership. Listening is the most crucial trait in effective consensus-building. You need to understand what the other party is communicating to thoughtfully respond. To achieve clear communication, you need to establish communication protocols, develop meeting agendas with identified outcomes, build an achievable schedule, and identify roles and responsibilities for every person including the owner, design team, and contractor. Follow-through requires every design team member to produce quality product on time, including sketches, ideas, material research, presentations, documents, and so forth to assist the owner in decision-making. Leadership is crucial in consensus-building since most owners have not been through the process before of building a new stadium, and we need to lead our clients through the process while being collaborative in nature for the good of the project. When you prove yourself to others, you build trust, which is what we did at Baylor. We listened, communicated, followed through with great ideas, and led the charge. We had buy-in from all parties—everyone understood the monumental vision we had and wanted to see it succeed. Consensus-building in the earliest stages was critical to this.

What’s the best piece of advice that anyone’s ever given you?

Sherri: I’ve received great advice over the years but one of my recent favorites is from Drayton McLane. He told me to surround myself with people who are smarter than me otherwise it’s tough to get better.

Jeff: It was a quote in my high school yearbook; I will never forget it: “Stay Cool.” Live it.

 

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