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Stadia Design & Technology Expo 2012 Conference speaker in focus: Mike Woollen of ODELL
ODELL's managing principal reveals how he measures project success, his expectations for future trends and which planned projects have caught his eye
“The opportunity to design public venues used by hundreds of thousands of spectators provides a bit of an adrenalin rush,” admits Mike Woollen, the architect and managing principal of ODELL’s Sports & Entertainment Studio. A man who clearly loves his job, he argues that “there’s nothing more exciting than watching a sports venue you designed being filled to capacity on opening night.”
Woollen began his career in the industry in the late 1970s with two sports facility projects at the University of Georgia, where he served as a campus architect. In the mid-1980s, he worked on a new sports arena for Charlotte, after which he decided to focus his career on sports and entertainment venues. He has now designed ten completed arenas, several baseball, football, and soccer stadia, and several sports training centres, as well as dozens of feasibility studies for other proposed venues.
“Each and every project has different challenges and opportunities,” he explains. “So the success of any one project needs to be measured by how well we met and exceeded our clients’ expectations while meeting the challenges and constraints placed upon us.”
For example, the UNC-Charlotte Barnhardt Student Activities Center was a very successful project due to its in-built flexibility to serve as both an intramural sports facility on non-game days and a 10,000-seat arena on game days.
Woollen is also proud of his work at the RBC Center in Raleigh, NC (now called the PNC Bank Arts Center). Here, ODELL initially designed the arena for basketball with unique features for this purpose. However, a few months into the construction, the Hartford Whalers NHL Hockey team relocated to Raleigh, so the company added a new press ring at the top, additional suites and hospitality space, and the team’s locker room and training rooms, all while construction was underway.”
More recently, ODELL was hired as the prime architect for the new Uptown Charlotte Ballpark for the Charlotte Knights. “This project is significant, not only for the continued success of the Knights ball club, but also as an economic development catalyst of one of the few remaining undeveloped areas of Uptown Charlotte,” explains Woollen.
If there’s a negative to the job, Woollen says that it’s the difficulty and time required in securing political and funding support. However, he explains that out of this necessity, the industry has adapted by finding numerous ways to increase revenues (premium seating, food and beverage, sponsorships/branding) to help compensate for shrinking public sector participation.
It is likely that Woollen will be attending the ‘Future Sports and Projects Showcase’ open technology forum at Stadia Design & Technology Expo 2012, as he has a keen interest in the collection of new or proposed stadia related to future World Cup and Olympic events. “I’ve been particularly impressed with some of the sustainable and energy-conserving stadia planned for the Middle East,” he says.
In addition to the prominent growth of technology within stadia, this ODELL architect also expects to see a greater diversity of seating products emerging – particularly with regards to private and party suites, club seats, loge boxes, party terraces and in-venue restaurants. “While in the past there may have been two opportunities for premium seating, in the near future you may see 8-10 different opportunities within any one venue,” he predicts.
Going forward, Woollen also foresees a much more integrated approach to branding and sponsor activation at future stadia. “By selecting key naming sponsors early in the design process, we are able to better integrate their brand with designated areas within a venue – giving the sponsors a higher level of visibility and activation, and providing more sponsor revenues because of this higher sponsor activation,” he explains, adding “This also enhances the fan experience by creating more interesting and interactive environments.”
Mike Woollen will be one of the experts involved in Session 2: USA Market Analysis roundtable at Stadia Design & Technology Expo 2012 (11:00-12:30hrs), Tuesday 8 May, 2012)