One of the great soccer stadiums in North America is about to get a significant upgrade.
The Portland Timbers unveiled on Wednesday their plan to add 4,000 seats to Providence Park with a massive, four-teared expansion of the stadium's east side. The $50 million privately-financed project could, pending City approval, be finished by the start of the 2019 MLS season.
“Providence Park is one of the most special stadiums in sports,” said Mike Golub, Timbers and Thorns president of business in a club release. “With our proposed expansion, we will enhance the incomparable fan experience and intimacy and provide the opportunity for some of the more than 13,000 members of the waiting list to become season ticket holders.”
After exploring expansion possibilities for well over a year, the Timbers partnered with Allied Works Architecture to produce a plan — influenced by the iconic near-vertical stands at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires and the Shakespearean Globe Theater in London — that will raise the stadium's capacity to over 25,000.
The design calls for four new levels to be added to the west side under a large, overhanging roof. The first level would be for club seating, the middle two levels for general seating, and the fourth level would be for suite-style group seating.
The four levels would be steeply tiered — excellent for noise retention — and bookended by two large columns. The plan would also make SW 18th Avenue a covered walkway next to the stadium.
No current seats will be impacted, meaning that the stadium's original structure on the north and west sides of the stadium would remain intact. The expansion would increase the capacity of the stadium to 25,000 and make it one of the largest soccer-specific venues in the country. Needless to say, the stadium is going to look and feel dramatically bigger.
Despite the relatively small size of this market, the Timbers are one of just seven clubs in MLS this season with a payroll exceeding $9 million. As MLS continues to grow, and the price of on-the-field success in the league continues to rise, revenue from ticket sales will become even more important to the Timbers.
As it is currently constructed, Providence Park's total capacity is in the bottom half of MLS — and considering the size of the team's season-ticket waitlist, the largest in the league, stadium expansion has been an obvious option for several years. Many fans have been waiting for season tickets since the team's first MLS season in 2011.
Owner Merritt Paulson's investment on this project will be sizable. Recently built MLS stadiums have cost between $100 and $200 million, and the renovation that turned what then called PGE Park into a soccer-specific stadium was publicly financed in part and cost just $35 million.
The club is aiming to begin construction at the conclusion of the 2017 season, continue construction during the 2018 offseason, and be ready to debut the expansion by the beginning of the 2019 season. If there are delays in gaining approval from the city, that timeline could be pushed back a year.
The Timbers will have their first review meeting with the city's Design Commission on May 11th. The club is also in talks with the city to amend its operating agreement for Providence Park, which originally was slated to expire in 2035. Any changes to that agreement would have be approved by Portland City Council.
But whenever the Timbers do get the green light to go ahead with this expansion, this is a historic day for the club. The level of success the Timbers, and, in the last several years, the Portland Thorns have had since the Timbers' entry into MLS less than a decade ago has been extraordinary.
As for the city's oldest sports stadium, it's second century may just be even better than its first.