The Full 90

Stadium architects proud of their work

Jonathan Knight and Jeffrey Spear have done this so many times now. Design a stadium. Watch it rise brick by brick until it’s complete. See the first game in that stadium and feel the sense of pride that only they can understand.

Thursday night’s opening of Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., should have been old hat for Knight and Spear, who are architects for Populous, a Kansas City-based stadium design company that is well-known internationally. But, as Knight and Spear walked around the concourse and saw nearly two years of work come to life, it might as well have been their first time.

“For a long time,” Spear said, “we’ve been coming out here, and it’s just a bunch of guys in hard-hats. It has transformed from yesterday. I mean, listen to that? It’s awesome.”

“Can you tell we’re basking in the glow?” Knight said.

In July 2009, Knight and Spear had their first meeting with Sporting Kansas City owners Cliff Illig and Robb Heineman. Once it was official that Populous would be handling the design, they would meet every Tuesday with Illig and Heineman, who had a clear vision for what type of experience they wanted to create: The most fan-centric atmosphere in Major League Soccer.

It was Populous’ job to get Sporting there, and 19,925 fans poured in to watch Sporting KC play the Chicago Fire and see what all the fuss was about.

“My hope is that this transforms the way Kansas Citians think about soccer,” Knight said. “Because this is the first time they’ve had a venue that gives them the ability to see soccer the way soccer should be seen.”

Spear added: “It’s exciting being on the ground floor of a generational transformation of the sport here in Kansas City.”

Populous has been the leader in KC’s sports venue makeover, handling the Sprint Center, the renovations at Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium and now Livestrong Sporting Park. The most unique thing about this building is that they were allowed to try things that even they’d never attempted before.

“We like to say this puts the major in Major League Soccer,” Spear said. “Jon coined the phrase ‘Stadium 2.0.’ ”