Designed for glory

Alumni played major roles in the design and construction of the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium in Arlington. With the recent opening of the incomparable venue, UT Arlington and the storied NFL franchise are forging a winning partnership.

By Herb Booth

Alumnus Ralph Hawkins had a good feeling after his initial meeting with the Dallas Cowboys and the Jones family.

He feels even better now.

Soon after that conversation, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones decided to make HKS, Hawkins’ Dallas-based architecture firm, the designer of the team’s new home in Arlington.

The $1.15 billion stadium opened in June and will host the 2010 NBA All-Star Game, 2011 Super Bowl, 2014 NCAA Final Four and numerous other major sports and entertainment events. With a capacity up to 100,000 people, it’s visible from many spots in the Metroplex, including portions of the UT Arlington campus.

It’s got a lot of pop, the architect says.

“I think what we have in Cowboys Stadium is one of the finest stadiums in the country,” says Hawkins, chairman and CEO of HKS, which employs numerous UT Arlington graduates and ranks as a top-five green design firm in the United States. “With its location adjacent to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Six Flags and the Arlington entertainment district, the new venue for the Dallas Cowboys will be an attraction for the world to experience not only a Cowboys victory, but also the ultimate in entertainment.”

Ralph Hawkins (‘73), CEO of HKS Inc., says his firm worked to give the Jones family a “visionary” stadium for the Dallas Cowboys.

Bigger and better

Brett Daniels, director of corporate communications for the Dallas Cowboys, thinks HKS and the Jones family have created an instant classic.

“The Jones family was very interested in building something that wasn’t just a football stadium,” says Hawkins, who earned his Bachelor of Science degree in architecture from UT Arlington in 1973 and chairs the University’s Development Board. “They were interested in something visionary.”

“It’s amazing working on something like Cowboys Stadium because it will last so long. It will be known all over the world.”

That’s exactly what they got, Daniels says.

“They’ve captured what the Jones family says is the essence of the project, that symbol of something that will represent the Dallas Cowboys for decades. Texas Stadium has been around for 38 years, and it became an icon for the franchise. It was the Dallas Cowboys. That’s what this new stadium will now become.”

Mark Williams, associate principal of the HKS Sports & Entertainment Group, says the Jones family was great to work with and that the only requirement was to keep “the signature Texas Stadium hole in the roof” because of its international brand identity.

Trey Yelverton (‘88), left, talks with Dallas Cowboys employee Phil Whitfield. As Arlington’s deputy city manager for economic development, Yelverton coordinated the city’s involvement with the construction and opening of the $1.15 billion stadium.

To be thorough, though, HKS and Cowboys representatives traveled the country to get a feel for what was out there. Hawkins and Williams agree that one luxury HKS had was that the Cowboys began stadium discussions early.

“We had a lot of time to plan,” Williams says. “That time we had to devote to studying all the different sports and entertainment venues was invaluable.”

Hawkins says the HKS team did a lot of prep work, a lot of due diligence to see what was feasible. “The Jones family wanted to do the best job possible. They also wanted the entertainment district around it to handle a Super Bowl. Jerry never changed anything indiscriminately. It was always to make the venue better, to make it unique.”

Early entertainment dates included country music star George Strait, pop sensation the Jonas Brothers and legendary former Beatles member Paul McCartney. The Cowboys hit the turf in August for a pair of preseason games. But the really big to-do came the night of Sunday, Sept. 20, when the Cowboys hosted the rival New York Giants in the first regular-season home game. Millions of viewers got their first glimpse of the stadium with NBC’s prime-time coverage.

Rudy Garcia (‘77), center, of URS Corp. (formerly LopezGarcia Group) served as the city of Arlington’s consultant on stadium design and review.

Maximum exposure

The Giants and other opposing teams might get lost if they think the place is anything like Texas Stadium. For starters, the new venue is three times larger. Hawkins says you could stand the Statue of Liberty in the bowl and the top wouldn’t poke out of the roof. The Empire State Building could fit sideways along the side of the structure, which casts a 3 million-square-foot footprint.

The retractable roof is the largest of its kind in the world at 661,000 square feet, and the arches supporting the roof weigh 3,255 tons each and span nearly a quarter-mile.

The stadium’s technology is just as impressive as its physical prowess. At a UT Arlington College of Business banquet, Cowboys President Stephen Jones said the video board alone cost more than all of Texas Stadium. The 600-ton display is 160 feet wide and 72 feet tall and shows crystal clear high-definition images on all four sides.

A 2,000-linear-foot LED ribbon board is the longest such display in the world. Stadium visitors will see UT Arlington advertising on the high-tech board as well as on more than 2,800 horizontal and vertical high-definition video screens throughout the facility.

The University has partnered with the Cowboys on a five-year sponsorship package that includes a combination of 30-second ads on the in-stadium television network and inclusion on the ribbon board.

“Cowboys Stadium really exceeds all expectations, and this is a spectacular opportunity for the University to be a part of it,” Vice President for Communications Jerry Lewis says. “We look forward to a great partnership with our new neighbor.”

Lewis estimates that during the next five years UT Arlington will reach more than four million people attending Cowboys games.

The University received the sponsorship package in exchange for making parking available to approximately 4,000 stadium employees. For certain stadium events, they will park in designated campus lots during off-peak hours.

Cowboys and Mavericks

The sheer size of the stadium poses parking and traffic challenges, but Hawkins says HKS worked closely with the city and the highway department to create a smooth flow.

That was part of Trey Yelverton’s job. The 1988 UT Arlington graduate is Arlington’s deputy city manager for economic development. He coordinated the city’s operation, bringing the right people to the table to get things done.

“There were a lot of moving parts,” he says. “My role was to take the city’s moving parts and connect the dots to the team’s moving parts, all while trying to hit a deadline.”

His UT Arlington education gave him an edge, Yelverton says. “UTA prepared me to lead. The learning environment helped me navigate diverse areas and kept things moving to fulfill the city’s obligations to the project.”

Besides the designers and contractors who worked on the stadium, the real heroes to Yelverton are the voters who approved bond money to fund a portion of the construction costs and Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck and City Council members who initiated the effort to bring the Cowboys to town.

“It will give Arlington a real economic shot in the arm,” he says.

He believes business eventually will come from the confluence of the entertainment venues. Road improvements also are creating economic development opportunities.

“Once all the traffic infrastructure is finished, then accessible and developable land becomes available,” Yelverton says.

Another UT Arlington graduate, Rudy Garcia of URS Corp. (formerly LopezGarcia Group), was the city’s consultant on stadium design and review. Purchased in August 2008 by URS Corp., a multinational professional services firm with offices in more than 30 countries, LopezGarcia Group has served as city engineer for several local cities.

“We looked at stadium drawings, made observations to make sure everything was up to city standards and codes,” Garcia says. “We had a full-time representative at the project.”

Yelverton calls Garcia “about as significant an entrepreneur as there is out in the professional world” because he has experts in place to ensure everything is done correctly.

“Our firm competed with some others,” said Garcia, who graduated in 1977 with a B.S. in civil engineering and sits on the College of Engineering’s advisory board. “We were on the short list and then selected.

“It’s amazing working on something like Cowboys Stadium because it will last so long. It will be known all over the world.”

And the three UT Arlington graduates—Garcia, Yelverton and Hawkins—will forever be connected to it.

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