It’s All About the Fans: Reshaping Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center
In the world of sports, competition is everything. And not just for the players—sports arenas, too, must constantly up their game to remain in tune with spectator expectations and needs.
As the Wells Fargo Center—home to the Philadelphia 76ers, Flyers, Wings, and Soul—approached its 20th year in operation, owner Comcast Spectacor found themselves facing a tough decision: Do we build a brand-new facility or renovate what we have to meet modern standards?
The team ultimately decided to launch an extensive, strategically phased plan to upgrade the arena throughout, from amenities and restrooms, to food and drink service, to seating areas and boxes. They hired Structure Tone’s Philadelphia team to start on the plan, which began in 2016 with the luxury suite level, upgrading 82 suites, as well as some sections of the main concourse. In 2017, they continued along the concourse and moved to the seating, concessions, and restrooms on the mezzanine level. By 2018, the team completed the mezzanine level and continued working on the concourse. Work continued in 2019 on main concourse bars and concessions, the box office, and the event-level club.
STICK HANDLING CHALLENGES
Needless to say, the scope of the upgrades is extensive. To complicate matters, the team also had to face a number of challenges to getting the work done on time and on budget.
1. It’s still a functioning arena. With so many sports teams, concerts, and other events relying on the Wells Fargo Center, Comcast Spectacor couldn’t simply shut down over the course of the renovations. So, construction had to occur in between events and accelerate during slower periods. During the summer of 2016, a Justin Bieber concert was scheduled as work began, then the team fit out 42 new suites, cleared out again for the Democratic National Convention, built 40 more suites, and wrapped up in time for an Adele concert.
We basically have to disappear hours before each event and get the work out of the way as much as possible,” says John Donnelly, Structure Tone project executive. “But we fast-track what we can and make it work”
2. Manpower is at a premium. Labor has been a considerable challenge for the entire construction industry over the last several years, which proved challenging for such a large project. Many of the premier subconsultants in Philadelphia were too busy themselves to commit to such a large effort. Rather than sacrifice quality, the Structure Tone team split the work by level among three different subs. “We have some of the top subcontractors in the city on this job and it shows,” says Donnelly. “Everyone is all in and on the same page so we’re able to solve problems quickly without overloading any one sub.”
3. Change is inevitable. Because the program was scheduled over such a long time period, the design has continued to evolve. In some cases, it became clear certain design decisions no longer fit the budget, or shifting fan expectations affected choices. In each case, the project team has had to come together quickly and efficiently to procure materials, produce submittals, and redirect the work to stay on track.
Some changes, too, came from pure serendipity. At the same time the Wells Fargo Center has been undergoing renovations, the Philadelphia Flyers were developing a new mascot, Gritty. The Flyers’ marketing team came up with the genius idea to marry those two activities, asking to dedicate some space in the arena as Gritty’s Room. Gritty’s Room will now be an interactive space for fans to experience where Gritty lives and sleeps. “The story is that we unearthed Gritty during demolition,” says Donnelly. “So we’ve adjusted to accommodate fun ideas like that as well.”
WORK IN PROGRESS
Last summer the team completed phase four of the upgrades, which included the Event Level Club, performers’ rooms, employee locker rooms, main concourse concessions and bar renovations, a new box office, event storage space, and several more VIP areas. And the overall effort is still ongoing—the team will replace the main concourse ceiling this fall and move on to renovating the Club Level in 2020. In addition, they plan to expand the entrances and build two canopies, complete the main concourse floor and ceiling work, renovate the 76ers’ and Flyers’ locker rooms, and complete an additional VIP Club.
“It’s awesome that 20,000 people get to experience what we’re building at every event,” Donnelly says. “People tell me all the time how great it looks and the owners are getting really good feedback from fans, which is the most important reward.”
Client: Comcast Spectator
Architect: Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects Comcast spectator
MEP Engineer: WSP
Structural Engineer: Walter P Moore
- M25-year LF Driscoll/Structure Tone relationship with Comcast Spectacor
- Center City Premium Club
- Assembly Room and Liberty Lofts