Apr 19, 2009

Our View: Rose Bowl revamp a smart plan

Pasadena Star News - Opinion
Sunday, April 19, 2009

As sports fans in the Bronx prepared to say goodbye to the old Yankee Stadium and welcome the 2009 model, Sports Illustrated ran a story written in the voice of the House That Ruth Built itself.

Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn - as it happens, a native New Englander and thus Red Sox fan - did the same thing recently for his stadium, going deep into the memories of the most hallowed venue in college football history, The Granddaddy of Them All.

“Not that the Rose Bowl was dying,” Dunn recently said.

Even through its recent financial and to a certain extent structural troubles, the Rose Bowl was certainly never dying.

But it did have the sniffles. The concourse around it is too cramped and crowded during sell-out events such as the annual Rose Bowl Game. Especially when all fans are trying to get into their seats at once, as in about 1:50 p.m. every New Year's Day, the access tunnels are so crowded security guards have to hold people back and then usher groups forward in small waves to avoid claustrophobic gridlock. While the weather here is much kinder to its almost 90-year-old concrete than the freeze-and-thaw experienced by East Coast stadiums, it can always use some shoring-up.

During the prolonged effort to bring a National Football League team to Pasadena's Arroyo Seco, some misguided if well-intentioned Rose Bowl backers liked to pretend that the stadium would die, as indeed the Orange Bowl did, if the NFL weren't allowed its rather ham-handed way with the historic, Myron Hunt-designed place first erected in 1922.

It was implied by some in that campaign that without nearly half a billion dollars in glitzy remodeling, which would have rendered it almost unrecognizable, that the Rose Bowl would have no future.


But citizens who voted down the NFL proposal recognized that, just as they recognize what a treasure the Rose Bowl is for all of Southern California.

So there have been over the last 20 years many medium-sized improvements: A functioning press box with some semi-luxury boxes. Massive and attractive new locker rooms built for the corn-fed football players of today rather than the slim Jims of the past. New signage and video screens.

Now Dunn, the entrepreneurial Rose Bowl Operating Company, Rose Bowl architect Margo Mavridis and nationally famed stadium architect Janet Marie Smith - she of Baltimore's Camden Yards and the new Fenway Park in Boston - are back with a proposal for a more significant redo.

Their scaled-back, historically appropriate, more affordable and most-inviting new design is precisely the kind of remodel the Rose Bowl needs and deserves.

It's just the kind of plan to take the Rose Bowl into and indeed all the way through the 21st century. Rather than going all Vegas - or Staples Center - on us, it respects the past by improving on the stadium's high style rather than glossing it over.

Key to the Smith plan is her brilliant and subtle design to vastly improve ingress and egress without building an impossibly expensive series of ramps on the stadium's outside to its upper levels.

Rather, the plan has spectators in the lower 10,000 seats entering and leaving the stadium from the field level through tunnels not currently in much use on the north and south ends. Going back to a layout last seen in the 1940s, waist-high hedges will be planted between the players' benches and the walkways. It will be a perk to be able to get that close to the action for those fans lucky enough to be sitting in the lowest sections. New score boards won't try to out-NFL the NFL - they're also going back to a 1940s look, but with new high-definition video screens.

To enlarge the concourse, the perimeter fence will be pushed out all around the Bowl, creating more room to move for all and less congestion at the restroom and concession lines. To make that happen at the stadium's north end, Brookside Golf Course No. 1's 18th fairway will have to lose a small lake - as the bane of slicers anyway, it won't be missed.

The press box and luxury boxes will be rebuilt much more efficiently than in previous plans by widening them around the bowl's girth rather than building them higher - a plan that has much support from neighbors on both rims of the Arroyo Seco who value their views. There will be much plusher accommodations up there for high rollers, and four different lounges around the stadium for others paying a premium for better grub and drinks than currently is offered on the concourse.

Previous plans, stadium execs now admit, "weren't very Pasadena and weren't very Rose Bowl." The new way forward, they add, "brings a softer, woman's touch to a very masculine building."

Perhaps most importantly, the projected $160 million price tag, supported by a bond to be paid back through the premium seating, advertising, new lounges and continued golf course revenues, is economically sound.

The hope is to break ground in 2011 and work through three UCLA off-seasons for a 2014 opening - just in time for the 100th anniversary of the first Rose Bowl Game from back when the match-up was played in Pasadena's Tournament Park.

It's a smart new future for the Rose Bowl, and we're all for it.