To many diehard fans of the Timbers and the Thorns, soccer is more than a sport - it borders on a religion.
Now those aficionados will have a local stadium worthy of their worship.
The expansion currently wrapping up at Providence Park has been touted as having the potential to elevate the stadium in Portland's Goose Hollow neighborhood to a spot among the greatest soccer cathedrals in the world. The stadium serves as the home of Major League Soccer team the Portland Timbers FC and Women's National Soccer League team The Portland Thorns FC.
Designed by architect Brad Cloepfil and his firm, Allied Works Architecture, the expansion has resulted in the addition of three new tiers of seating on the stadium's Southwest18th Avenue side. A cantilevered roof that extends over the 4,000 new seats and previously existing field-level seats will help keep fans dry during even the wettest Oregon weather.
The $85 million expansion, which brings the stadium's total seat capacity to 25,218, also includes new locker rooms for the Timbers and the Thorns, new LED field lighting, a new field, new and revamped concession stands and concourse amenities, and a new state-of-the-art video board that Mike Golub, president of business for the two teams, describes as "ginormous."
While soft-opening events are expected to be held during the last week in May, the stadium expansion is slated to be formally unveiled for ticket holders when the Timbers play their first home match of the 2019 season on June 1, followed by the Thorns playing their first match in the expanded stadium on June 2. Construction crews are still putting finishing touches on the project - an electronic board for a vendor, for example, won't arrive until the last week in May and there's still a new field that needs to laid down and broken in -- but Golub told members of the media who gathered May 7 for a hard-hat press tour that he's confident the work will finish on time.
"We're ready," he said. "We're in good shape."
Back to the beginning
The new levels of seats along Southwest 18th Avenue pay tribute to one of the earliest visions for the stadium. A drawing by Portland architect A.E. Doyle, uncovered by the Allied Works' team while conducting research for the current expansion, showed a U-shaped stadium that included a double-level arcade structure on the east side. However, when the stadium was constructed in 1926, that feature wasn't included.
"Really, what we've done here is realize the original vision," Chelsea Grassinger, an Allied Works principal, said.
The work currently finishing up represents the fifth renovation or expansion of the stadium since its original construction (previous projects took place in 1956, 1982, 2001 and 2010-11).
Plans for the latest project date back to 2017, when Peregrine Sports LLC, owner of the Thorns and the Timbers, announced a plan to increase the number of seats in the stadium, from roughly 21,000 to approximately 25,000 to accommodate the teams' popularity in the city. At the time, the expansion was expected to cost $50 million, an amount that has since increased to $85 million.
Golub attributed part of the increase in the project's cost to decisions made during construction to add or upgrade features, such as a new sound system and the full LED lighting. The price tag also swelled due to what Golub called a "frothy construction environment" resulting from tariffs and market demand that pushed prices for steel, concrete and other materials higher than expected. Peregrine is covering the entire cost for the project, according to Golub.
Up in the air
Work on the first of two phases for the expansion began once the 2017 soccer season ended, with project general contractor Turner Construction pouring concrete for the foundation of the new seating superstructure. The company has a long history with the stadium that dates back to 2001, when Turner served as general contractor for a $38.5 million renovation to upgrade the stadium for the Portland Beavers minor league baseball team. The company also served as general contractor for a $36 million renovation started in 2010 and completed in 2011 that upgraded the stadium to meet Major League Soccer standards.
The Timbers' opening game in April of last year gave fans a first look at the completed first phase of work, which had focused on building 39 new concrete columns to support the new superstructure.
The second phase of work, focused on completing the roof and seating tiers, took place in stop-and-start fashion to accommodate home games during the 2018 season. Once the season finished, however, Turner and its crews began a full-out push to remove the old canopy and construct a new roof that cantilevers 120 feet from the structure to fully cover all of the seats. The steel components for the roof were created in California, shipped to Oregon in pieces in 120 semi loads and then erected in place, according to Brian Sabom, a senior project manager with Turner.
Despite challenges of a tight site with one side bounded by the MAX light-rail line, another side limited by the Multnomah Athletic Club building and a field area that had be avoided to minimize damage, Turner was able to use a driveway on the south side of the stadium to move materials to keep work on schedule, Sabom said.
Ready to roll
In order to re-open the stadium for the 2019 season, approval had to be received from the city on two pieces of policy.
In April, city commissioners OK'd an updated traffic management plan for the stadium. One week later, they also approved an updated Good Neighbor Policy by a 3-1 vote.
Last year, with the stadium still under construction as 2018 season games were being played, the Timbers implemented an informal rule preventing fans from lining up outside the stadium more than 24 hours before a game. That rule is now permanent under the new version of the Good Neighbor Policy.
With the updated policies now in place, the stadium is gearing up for what the Providence Park team expects will be a full house. Twenty percent of the new seats have been set aside for single-game and special-group ticket sales. The rest, however, have already been sold, Golub said.
No matter where fans attending the Timbers' and Thorn's first home games in the revamped stadium end up sitting, though, they can expect to be treated to a new experience.
"Every fan will see, hear or feel a lot of new things," Golub said.
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