At a certain point, professional athletes have to think about retiring. While each decision is personal, these athletes might ask themselves similar questions: Can they still compete with the rest of the league? Are they meeting their own high standards? Can they continue to improve?

Some of the same questions factor into decisions around the buildings these athletes play in. Owners must decide when sports stadiums don’t measure up and the fan experience begins to suffer. At this point, they have to decide whether to renovate their existing stadium or build a brand new one.

As leaders in North American sports construction, PCL Construction has been involved with both renovations and new stadium builds. Our experts have the knowledge and experience to guide arena owners through this crucial decision and the construction process.

When stadium owners come to Wayne Melnyk for advice on whether to rebuild or renovate — as they have for decades now — it always boils down to what the building can handle.

“You’ve got to look at the facility and determine if it’s worth renovating. Does it have the capacity to be modernized to last another 20 or 30 years?” says the vice president, major projects, with PCL’s California Buildings office, who has been with the company since 1975. “Within some of those iconic arenas, there's capacity to upgrade it and it can still be functional for another 20 or 30 years. But I’ve looked at other arenas where I tell owners to start with a bulldozer.”

Part of the capacity Melnyk looks for is the ability to add modern amenities that enhance the fan experience. These include expanded concourses, luxury suites, upscale dining options and state of the art technology.

“Can it be expanded to meet the new needs of fans, some sort of a social environment and dining experiences? And will it be functional 20 years from now?” he asks. “If you don't think it has that capability, build a new one.”

Because of the guidance they get from experts like Melnyk, PCL has built strong relationships with stadium owners that result in repeat business. Staples Center (now Arena) in Los Angeles is a prime example of the long-term commitment and dedication owners get when they work with PCL — Melnyk is one of several employees who worked on both the initial build and now the renovation more than two decades later.

“You have to listen to your clients and understand their vision; I think you’ve got to stay focused on that. And you’ve got to perform at the end of the day,” he says. “We can do all the marketing in the world on how great we are. But if our field teams can't perform, we're not going to get the repeat work. I think we've done a good job of making sure we set up our teams to succeed. We enhance the process — from design and engineering to construction management — and our teams are there at every step, creating unbeatable performance and optimizing revenue.”

Rick Garcia is a general superintendent with PCL’s California office. Like Melnyk, his resumé includes both the initial construction of Arena in the late 1990s and the current renovation of the arena, as well as the construction of Banc of California Stadium (now BMO Stadium) — home of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Football Club — which was completed in 2018.

Garcia says taking on stadium renovation projects is gratifying — “It kind of felt like we never left,” he says of Arena — and he hopes to see more of them come his way.

“These facilities are built to have an extended functioning life. Now they're getting close to 40 or 50 years,” he says. “Mostly, owners want to look at the timeframe we need for a renovation and what kind of budget we can build it for.”

Melnyk says there’s a certain amount of creativity needed to work within the constraints of an existing arena compared to building a new one from the ground up, especially given the condensed timeframe of working during teams’ off-seasons.

“It's far more creative to renovate. It’s a whole lot easier to build these things from scratch,” Melnyk says. “We basically have between three and a half to four months to do what's needed in a renovation, so you have to work with the ownership. What can you realistically do in this timeframe? You can’t do it all at once because most arenas are still busy in the offseason with concerts and other events.”

They also have to account for lead times in getting construction materials delivered – a challenge many contractors continue to face today. That issue cropped up during the first phase of Arena renovations in summer 2022, but Garcia says PCL and the owners were able to learn from it.

One example of this is new LED panels the owners wanted to install. Electrical equipment usually requires a year of lead time to procure, but thanks to a good relationship with the manufacturer, the owner managed to procure new panels quicker than usual, and PCL was able to coordinate their installation before the first game was played. 

While Lane Welter only joined PCL in 2018, he’s been involved in stadium construction his entire career. Now a construction manager with the sports division at PCL’s Denver office, he started as designer on stadium projects as a way to merge his love of sports with his love of architecture, then moved to the construction side later on. Sports stadium construction is a competitive space, he says, with multiple competitive bidders on every project.

But he says PCL sets itself apart by setting realistic expectations and achieving them, which keeps everyone happy.

“When we give clients information, when we give them budgets, when we give them schedules, there aren't any surprises,” Welter says. “Our advantage is the relationships we build. Then, we deliver on the information we provide, in cost, schedule and quality.”

The latest trend in sports arena design doesn’t necessarily involve the arena itself — it’s the development of entertainment districts around an arena. Restaurants, bars, shops and hotels surrounding an arena provide increased revenue for owners, both on gamedays and in the offseason.

PCL has the expertise to meet this growing demand. We’ve been integral in the development of the Ice District in Edmonton, True North Square in Winnipeg, Maple Leaf Square in Toronto and the L.A. Live complex in Los Angeles.

Welter says this trend isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

“Retail, food, entertainment, live music, whatever it might be — I think that’s definitely more in line with what owners are looking at because they realized they can try to maximize their revenue,” he says. “And they're realizing that, if they own the land and there's additional land outside of the footprint of their sports facility, all of a sudden, they can build apartments, condominiums, retail, restaurants, whatever. It's a whole new revenue stream that feeds into what they get out of the team.”

No matter what trends in stadium designs come next, though, PCL’s vast experience and solid relationships mean we’ll be prepared to meet our client’s evolving needs.