New book sheds light on sports architecture in Kansas City


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs Kingdom might not have known. Neither do Royals fans. But when they won their championships in 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium and 2015 at Citi Field, the architects who designed the stadiums they celebrated in were likely fans.

Both stadiums were designed by Kansas City sports architects, one of the many firms that flourished in Kansas City.

Now, a new book hopes to enlighten fans here and everywhere about Kansas City’s sports design successes.

During a visit to Italy in 2014, Tom Wagoner stood in front of an ancient stadium: the Roman Colosseum. Despite 33 years of designing stadiums and sports venues, the Kansas-educated architect had never seen this landmark. He said he was frozen in awe.

“Even though it’s the skeleton of a building, what part of that building is exactly what I and other architects have been doing, at least in Kansas City for over 50 years,” recalls he have thought.

This moment inspired him to want to pursue an idea: to write a book about Kansas City’s place in the world of sports design, which is not centuries old, but worth at least more than half a century. .

“It really goes back in many ways to a gentleman named Ron Labinski,” Wagoner said.

In the late 1960s, Labinski and his company convinced Kansas City Chiefs ownership and city leaders not to follow the model of building a multi-purpose, “donut-hole” type stadium. Instead, they came up with a football-specific stadium that we know today as Arrowhead.

And right next to it, a baseball stadium that would host the Royals. Absent from the rolling roof, the Truman Sports Complex was born, and it served as a catalyst.

“One of the things he thought was that these other cities would recognize what happened in our city, Kansas City, and they would come and see what the sports-specific buildings were,” Wagoner said.

It worked. Other cities and teams looking for new designs descended on Kansas City. And as the workload grew, so did the companies that grew and, in some cases, smaller companies.

New venues in professional and college sports are born, with new amenities for fans and participants. Today, most modern or updated stadiums were designed by a Kansas City company or companies in other cities with ties to KC.

Waggoner, together with writer, editor and publisher David Smale, worked to take his six-year project and turn it into a tabletop book complete with history and photos to document Kansas City’s sports design success. .

Waggoner’s goal: to make the world more aware of what the design world knows,

“I want this to be a book that anyone in our city can pick up and read and understand,” he said. “And enjoy and help us all celebrate.”

As for Wagoner, who now consults primarily with university programs such as Missouri’s on athletic facilities, he fondly recalls his favorite projects: his first, a remodeling of Madison Square Garden beginning in 1988, followed by the modernization of the Notre Dame football stadium.

But his favorites: making his daughter Kyle play football in the stadium he designed for Elon University in North Carolina. And more recently to work with his daughter Margaret, an architectural engineer, on two projects at his alma mater K-State.

A proud dad turned author, happy to share the success of his profession with all of us.

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