By Steve Bennett, San Antonio Express News Art & Architecture Writer
April 18, 2013
One of the great new features of Toyota Field, the North American Soccer League San Antonio Scorpions' new 8,000-seat stadium, is the boot room. It is literally where the players hang their cleats, or in soccer parlance, boots. Star team members sometimes leave a pair of cleats hanging on a hook when they move on, to remind younger players they once laced up for the team.
“So it starts a history and tradition,” said Scorpions' Head Coach Tim Harkinson. “It's a fun thing for the players. Just getting into our own locker room is important. Players don't have to pack up their gear every day and take it with them.”
The boot room is a product of the extensive research done by Luna Architecture & Design, the local firm that designed the stadium.
During the 2010 World Cup, principal Robert Luna visited stadiums in South Africa collecting ideas and taking photographs. He and his 32-year-old associate, Adam Gill, a University of Texas at San Antonio graduate who took the lead in Toyota Field's design, also visited the massive 100,000-seat Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
“Our approach was: Let's provide a lot of the amenities of big-time soccer in a cost-effective manner,” Luna said.
Last year, the Scorpions played at nearby Heroes Stadium, a high-school football venue.
“You have to put playing in a soccer-specific stadium in the context of the history of the sport in this country,” Hankinson said. “And that is, we have had to borrow other sports facilities, like football stadiums, which are narrower and have all these lines and numbers on the field. It's great to finally get on a grass field with only soccer lines.
Having their own field motivates players, he added.
“The fans are right on top of you and that energizes players,” he said. “It's a very intimate atmosphere, with electricity in the air, a soccer atmosphere with fans chanting and singing as they do in other countries. And you want to recycle that energy minute by minute throughout the game.”
Intimacy was perhaps the most important element in the architect's design scheme. The first row of seating — multicolored plastic seats with Scorpions spelled out in white against red on one side of the field and the team's scorpion logo in yellow on the other — is just 16 feet from the sideline on the field.
“You can heckle the players, and they will probably yell back at you,” Gill said. “Everything is so close. Sightlines are excellent. There is literally not a bad seat in the house. It's going to be very intimidating for opposing players.”
The stadium has an industrial feel, in direct opposition to the softer, more Americana-based Morgan's Wonderland nearby. The accessible amusement park founded by former homebuilder and philanthropist Gordon Hartman, owner of the Scorpions, also was designed by Luna. In a unique arrangement, team profits are pumped back into Morgan's Wonderland.
Red-and-silver corrugated and perforated metal panels hang on a steel structure, with a horizontal band of 15 glassed VIP suites rising above seating under the shade of a soaring metal roof on the stadium's west side. The suites, Gill said, have “an old-school Dick Tracy industrial feel.” Using standard, pre-engineered warehouse materials customized for the stadium helped to keep costs down.
“We wanted to bring the building back into the (nearby Longhorn) quarry,” Luna said. “We wanted a more rugged type of look than Morgan's Wonderland.”
Gill said the intent was to create a feel that was “kind of raw, but clean and contemporary at the same time.”
Other stadium features include a grass playing field built to FIFA and NCAA specifications, a VIP lounge, a team merchandise store, a patio/beer garden, a 1,045-square-foot video scoreboard capable of showing 12 camera angles, a 130-speaker sound system and shaded seating on the west side.
The Scorpions are not revealing what the stadium cost, but a NASL source told the Express-News that a 10,000-seat stadium in a comparable market would cost $35 million.
Toyota Field will be completed in four phases, with the capability of expanding eventually to seating of 18,500 as demand increases.
“I have every confidence we're going to expand the stadium to the maximum,” Hartman said, adding that Toyota Field has “exceeded my expectations.”
“Fans are looking for a very intimate stadium, and yeah, it is what I wanted, what I envisioned.”
Opening night on April 13 drew a capacity crowd of 8,177 in a Scorpions loss to defending NASL champ Tampa Bay.
“It was an exciting environment,” Luna said. “The fans really got into it, especially when you compare the experience to one in a high-school football stadium.”
Toyota Field is the second of San Antonio native Gill's designs to be built.
“Adam took the ball and ran with it,” Luna said.
The small firm may have hit upon a lucrative concept. Luna said he has been approached by three other NASL teams about designing facilities.
“The challenge Gordon put to us was to achieve a cost-effective stadium in a short time frame with expansion capabilities, and that is attractive to other teams,” Luna said. “Adam has been instrumental in making that happen.”
“At my age at another firm, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do a project like this,” said Gill, who grew up “building things” with his retired firefighter father. “That's where I learned I like creating something from nothing, especially something that will be timeless and permanent.”