SPIRE Pulls Back the Curtain on the New 49ers Stadium with the Student Group ASPIRE

It was a lot more than just a tour of the new 68,000-seat, $1.2 billion San Francisco 49ers stadium rising out of the ground near the Great America theme park in Santa Clara. 

The SPIRE sponsored tour was also an opportunity for the student group ASPIRE with more than 30 Stanford students and faculty to get a peak at some of the construction techniques being pioneered at the project that could become commonplace in the 21st Century.

The hard hat construction tour for the student organization ASPIRE, was led by Jack Hill, the stadium project executive.  The undergraduates on the tour were civil engineering students while the graduate students included those seeking advanced degrees in construction management, according to Nelson Estrada, president of ASPIRE, the student affiliate of SPIRE.

“Eighty percent of the steel structure had been done but only 20 percent of the entire project was done,” says Mr. Estrada, of the point in time they toured the project.

The stadium is designed by HNTB, an internationally renowned architecture firm, with Turner Construction in charge of building the massive structure.

“It’s pretty amazing,” says David Kleiman, President of D2 Realty Services, Inc., of Palo Alto, a real estate developer focusing on high-rise residential and office buildings. He teaches an architecture course at Stanford and was also on the tour.  “It’s an incredible amount of steel, a very aggressive [construction] schedule.”

Mr. Kleiman says the project is unusual in that it’s being done as a design-build project rather than the older method of designing the building and then constructing the building. “This does have some risks, but in this case they’ve been able to avoid those and as a result, it’s going quickly. And when you’re talking about an investment of this magnitude, speed and timing is critical,” he says. “They’re able to save two to three months by combining the design and construction processes.  I think you’re going to see more and more of that.”

But the stadium is also attracting worldwide interest for its “green” design, making it perhaps the most eco-friendly stadium on the planet.

“One of the majors that people have in the Stanford civil engineering department relates to green building design,” Mr. Kleiman says.  “I think some of those students were especially enamored with the structure and all of the green aspects of it.”

When completed, for example, there will be 20,000 square feet of solar panels to provide some of the power needs, a “green” roof plan for the towers holding the sky suite boxes, and extensive use of “gray” water for lawn irrigation and in toilets. The goal of the stadium development is to be LEED-certified and to use zero energy from the grid for 10 football games a year.

From an architectural point of view, Mr. Kleiman gives high marks to the stadium. “Quite attractive, really great sight lines for the spectators,” he says. “An amazing array of amenities.”

But there was another important reason for the tour: It helped elevate the profile of ASPIRE on campus, Mr. Estradra says, introducing students to some of the organization’s activities and leaders.  “ASPIRE’s a student real estate club at Stanford and it’s geared towards a very specific career,” he notes. “It can be really tough to get a group of students to be interested in real estate because it’s such a specific career path.”

The tour of the future home of the 49ers was exactly the kind of event that can ignite interest in students in somewhat analogous studies, Mr. Estrada says. And it didn’t hurt that Stanford is doing well in college football, with the Cardinal heading to the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, he adds.  “Most people around campus would love to know more about the future 49ers’ home and how it’s being built,” he says.

Al Guido, in charge of sales and marketing for the 49ers new stadium, briefed the guests on the business side of the stadium. He shared with the students about the “seat license” fee and the fact that they are ahead of schedule on sales having brought in over $750 million from the sales of seats and luxury boxes. The stadium will host the 2014 Kraft Hunger Bowl college game and is one of two locations under consideration to host the 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls. 

It wasn’t all clomping about a massive construction site. SPIRE chartered bus transportation from campus and hosted a dinner for those on the tour. SPIRE was pleased to provide ASPIRE and its student members a real world industry experience at one of the most cutting edge projects in the country.