The Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, is home to the National Hockey League's new Blue Jackets. It's also home to an array of restaurants that try to offer something for everyone.
Chute Gerdeman, the Columbus-based design firm, teamed with Sportservice, the leading provider of food service at sports and entertainment facilities, to create several "landmark" food venues within the six-level arena - a total of nearly 40,000 square feet in eateries.
According to Denny Gerdeman, principal designer, the primary goal was to increase patron satisfaction with an overall experience. "Restaurants are retail - they have to create drama and entice customers," he explains. "The restaurants needed to be recognized by the customers and be able to stand on their own. We didn't want them to be a shrinking violet lost in the overall arena."
The Bud Light Terrace on the main concourse level includes the West Side Diner, East Side Grill and ice cream and pizza kiosks. "This is not your grandfather's concession stand anymore," Gerdeman says. "Both Nationwide and the Blue Jackets wanted to make sure the food they offered fans was better than expected, a step above anywhere else."
Because the arena's restaurants directly compete with a profusion of neighborhood eateries, Gerdeman recognized the importance of making these restaurants fun and, even more important, able to accommodate the speedy processing of customers. During the initial conception phase, Gerdeman and team traveled around the country to different hockey arenas to see which design best handled huge volumes during peak periods. "If it takes too long, you lose customers," he explains. "The less time a patron spends in line, the more food is sold and the more satisfied the customer will be."
Designers used an open, eclectic collection of materials and graphics with a 50s industrial feel that related to the surrounding historical district. Each area has its own style and design. (The West Side Grill specializes in bratwursts, while the East Side Grill is known for deli sandwiches.)
On the club level - or middle section - the Pizzuti Lounge and Club Bar are exclusive sports bars for PSL (personal seat license) ticket holders. From directly above the ice, patrons can sit at tables and watch with an unobstructed view of the game. Large-screen monitors are dispersed throughout for those sitting at the bar. It was important to Gerdeman that customers could also see the food being freshly prepared. The menu is filled with unconventional items such as baked ham, prime rib, roast beef and gourmet sandwiches.
The Pizzuti Lounge is an upscale sports bar where patrons can sit and watch an unobstructed view of the hockey game. A backlit center element resembles ice, while an overhead valance edged in steel mimics a skate blade.
Ticketmaster.com Lounge, which sounds like a place to purchase game tickets, is in fact a white tablecloth dining area. Located below the center-ice PSL seats, this private lounge is designed as the place to be for dinner before the game starts. Patrons find everything from ice sculptures to crab cakes and grilled salmon in the lounge.
Designers used a variety of metal finishes to establish a warehouse feel for the arena. Instead of a traditional wood bar, Gerdeman opted for stainless steel and warm copper barfronts in the main concourse. Various woods, shiny textured surfaces and neons also dominate the general concessions. Lighting in these areas is primarily incandescent. In the Pizzuti Lounge, lighting is dimmed to create a sense of intimacy.
Since the Blue Jackets - an expansion team formed in 2000 - had no history to design around, reinforcing the team brand was not the mission. "The objective was to make the restaurants' appeal be about the food groups they're selling," says Gerdeman. "We didn't want a literal interpretation of the hockey brand, but we did use a lot of blues, which is not just the team's name but also a color that references ice." Lots of silvers and whites complemented by a blue neon wash reinforce the Blue Jacket theme in Pizzuti and Ticketmaster.com. Behind the bar at Pizzuti, a backlit center element resembles ice, and overhead valances edged in steel mimic a skate blade. In Ticketmaster.com, blue and warm woods were used to create a rich environment. "The finishes are much nicer and refined in these areas," says Gerdeman. "We tried to design the restaurants for what we felt was the customer base in each particular area."
According to a PSL holder survey, the arena has either met or exceeded expectations. Only three other NHL teams had higher attendance records last season. In addition, 99 percent of season ticket holders have renewed for the following year - encouraging since the young team won only 28 of 76 games last year.
The East Side Grill, part of the Bud Light Terrace, offers more than typical concession fare. The grill was designed for speedy service so customers would not have to spend as much time away from the game. Stainless steel and warm copper barfronts help establish a warehouse feel for the arena.
Client Team: Sportservice, a div. of Delaware North Cos., Buffalo, N.Y. - Jerry Freed, general manager, Fleet Center, Delaware North; Jack Hertenstein, vp, building services, Sportservice; Pia Nelson, operations manager, Sportservice
Design Team: Chute Gerdeman, Columbus, Ohio - Denny Gerdeman, principal; Wendy Johnson, program management; Andrew Hubbard, design; Tim Frame and Eric Daniel, graphic design; Susan Siewny, graphic production; Heidi Brandewie and Nicole Vachow, visual merchandising; Steve Andreano, design documentation; Ric Wolff, project coordination
Outside Design Consultant: Schuler & Shook, Minneapolis
Architects: Heinlein Schrock, Kansas City; NBBJ, Columbus, Ohio
Contractor: Hanlin Rainaldi, Columbus, Ohio
Engineer: ME Engineers, Denver
Suppliers: Accurate Fabrication, Columbus, Ohio, Custom Metal Fabrication, Columbus, Ohio, Corporate Fixtures, Columbus, Ohio, Cozmyk, Columbus, Ohio, Dean's Custom Fixtures, Columbus, Ohio (fixtures); Wassertrom, Columbus, Ohio, Cini Little, Rockville, Md. (equipment); DesignCrete, Columbus, Ohio (flooring); Hanover Signs, Columbus, Ohio