Ben Barnert, a Kansas City architect who helped form the nucleus of what’s now known as Populous, one of the nation’s largest sports architecture firms, died July 28 in Breckenridge, Colo., after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 59.
Barnert’s most visible local accomplishment was as lead architect for what was called the Downtown Arena Design Team, the dream team of local sports firms that designed the Sprint Center, which opened at 14th Street and Grand Boulevard in 2007.
Because Kansas City is a national center for sports architecture, the three big local firms forged an alliance rather than battle for bragging rights in their hometown. The dream team consisted of HOK Sport Venue Event, which later became Populous, along with 360 Architecture and Ellerbe Becket.
The distinctive glass-bowl design of the Sprint Center won numerous awards and was an anchor for the massive downtown redevelopment effort the last decade.
Barnert, a graduate of Kansas State University, went to work for HOK in 1984, the eighth employee to join the firm. His first major project was Pilot Field, a minor league ballpark in downtown Buffalo, N.Y., that opened in 1988.
From there, his sports architecture career accelerated to include designing major league ballparks in Baltimore, San Diego and New York; NFL stadiums in Baltimore and Pittsburgh; and the NHL arena in Nashville, Tenn. He designed more than 20 major sports venues during his 30-year career at the firm.
Barnert is survived by his wife, Darla, daughter Libby and son Andrew. A memorial service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Aug. 24 at Christ Church Anglican in Overland Park.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to either the church or an endowed scholarship established in his honor at Kansas State, the Ben Barnert Memorial Scholarship.