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Going up! How Portland's Providence Park will fit more fans into American soccer’s best party

Rendering courtesy club/Allied Works

With the Timbers' season-ticket waiting list at 13,000-plus and the Thorns still growing, the organization is trying to serve the demand.

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With one of the tightest footprints in all of North American sports venues, the Portland Thorns/Timbers organization had only one direction to go when trying to figure out how to add seats to the 21,144-capacity Providence Park: up.

And even that direction was tricky to figure out, Mike Golub, the club’s president of business tells FourFourTwo.

“We began studying expansion a year or two into our MLS venture,” he says of the longtime club which made the jump to MLS in 2011. “Early on, we couldn’t quite figure out the right design. We have a fantastic location in the heart of the city and that represents a challenge when you are trying to grow. There are just not a lot of places we can go on this footprint.”

It wasn’t until Golub went to lunch with one of the club’s season-ticket holders, renowned architect Brad Cloepfil of Portland’s Allied Works, that they arrived on a concept that could add 4,000 seats within the current horseshoe footprint of a stadium. The venue originally opened as Multnomah Stadium in 1926 and now stands as the best place to watch soccer in the United States (in our humble opinions).

Rendering courtesy club/Allied Works

Rendering courtesy club/Allied Works

The design that “unlocks the puzzle” includes a purely vertical solution on the stadium’s east side, which underwent a renovation to turn it from a baseball outfield into a soccer sideline, in 2011. With inspiration from London’s Shakespearean Globe Theatre and La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, Allied Works created a way to leave the current seats untouched and add a triple-deck seating option with a new roof. The design required a new agreement with the city that allows for the concrete supports to extend into the sidewalk outside the stadium and create a pedestrian arcade of 11 feet high both inside and outside the stadium footprint along the city street.

Golub says the roughly 4,000 seats will come online for the 2019 season and push capacity in the venue just over 25,000, still within the range the rest of the historic venue can handle.

“There is a finite amount you can go up before it is no longer practical,” he says about the remaining size of gates and concourses. “If we had a completely clean slate and could build any size from the ground up, it might be a different number, but it is more about finding a design that works with the rest of the building in the footprint and having it all pencil out in a way we were comfortable with. Those were all factors that led to the 4,000 number.”

Rendering courtesy club/Allied Works

Rendering courtesy club/Allied Works

By not touching any current seats, the organization were able to decide how to introduce the new section, determining that the first of the three levels will serve as a higher-end club. The second and third levels will be reserved seating. With every home MLS game ever hosted by the Timbers a sellout and over 13,000 fans on the season-ticket waiting list (in addition to the Thorns averaging nearly 18,000 fans), Golub says the organization looks forward to getting some folks off the Timbers waiting list and into the venue. Based on priority, those already holding tickets can opt to move to the new seats and once everyone has sorted out their seats, prospective season-ticket holders will get invited into the stadium.  

Construction began immediately following the Timbers’ exit from the 2017 MLS Cup playoffs in November. Between then and the end of the 2018 MLS season, crews will stage the area and start erecting the first level, meaning there will be some slight rerouting of pedestrians and changes to the team store during the 2018 MLS and NWSL seasons. Then, crews will finish off the second and third levels in time for the start of the 2019 seasons.

There was concern early on that going vertical wasn’t going to be worth it. “The footprint was really narrow, which constrained the number of seats,” Golub says. “If we could extend each of the three floors of common space over the sidewalk, we gain an immense amount of space and it frees up the ability to add more seats.”

This breakthrough on the design allows the addition to hang over the sidewalk, creating the arcade experience and widening the concourse underneath the addition. A new roof atop the 93-foot-tall addition will extend to the field wall, covering more seats than it does now.

The "arcade" walking area below seats. (Rendering courtesy club/Allied Works)

Rendering courtesy club/Allied Works

Chelsea Grassinger, associate principle and lead architect on the project for Allied Works, has an office just two blocks from the park. She tells FourFourTwo the big ah-ha moment was the arcade.

“It tied all the efforts together and allowed us to position the seating trays to achieve sightlines and achieve the circulation we needed along the concourse,” she says. “It was also a great insight relative to bringing the stadium to the city.”

Fans will walk under the addition on the extended sidewalk outside the stadium’s confines and also under it as part of the concourse.

The "arcade" walking area below seats. (Rendering courtesy club/Allied Works)

Rendering courtesy club/Allied Works

This $55 million privately financed addition comes as the second major soccer-specific redesign of the historic stadium previously known as both Multnomah and Civic stadiums. The $40 million 2011 makeover removed the multi-purpose and baseball awkwardness.

The original A.E. Doyle design for Multnomah Stadium called for the complete U-shaped stadium, something never realized until now.

“In a sense,” Grassinger says, “we are putting in place what was originally conceived, but in a more modern language.”

Click here for more cool stadium insight from FFT USA