New book highlights Kansas City sports architecture

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs Kingdom might not have known it. Royals fans either. But when they won their championships in 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium and in 2015 at Citi Field, the architects who designed the stadiums they celebrated in were probably fans.

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

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

On a visit to Italy in 2014, Tom Waggoner stood before an ancient stadium: the Roman Coliseum. In spite of 33 years designing stadiums and sports venues, the Kansas State-trained architect had never seen this landmark. He said he stood frozen in awe.

“Even though it’s a skeleton of a building, how much of that building is exactly what myself and other architects have been doing, at least in Kansas City for 50 plus years,” he remembered thinking.

That moment inspired him to want to follow-up on an idea: Write a book chronicling Kansas City’s place in the sports design world, not centuries old, but more than a half century’s worth at least.

“It really goes back in a lot of ways to a gentleman named Ron Labinski,” Waggoner said.

In the late 60s, Labinski and his firm convinced Kansas City Chiefs ownership and civic leaders not to follow the pattern of building a multi-purpose “donut hole” type stadium. Rather, they proposed a football specific stadium we know as Arrowhead today.

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

“One of the things he felt was these other cities would recognize what happened in our city, Kansas City, and that they would come to look at what was the sport specific, sport specific buildings,” Waggoner said.

It worked. Other cities and teams seeking new designs descended on Kansas City. And as the workload grew, so did the firms that grew, and in some cases, spun off smaller firms.

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

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

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

“I want it to be a book anybody in our city can pick up and read and understand,” he said. “And appreciate and help all of us celebrate.”

As for Waggoner, now consulting with mostly college programs such as Missouri’s on athletic facilities, he fondly remembers his favorite projects: his first, a remodel of Madison Square Garden beginning in 1988, followed by upgrades to Notre Dame’s football stadium.

But his favorites: Having his daughter Kyle play soccer 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 chosen profession with us all.

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