Baltimore’s newly renovated CFG Bank Arena, formerly the Baltimore Civic Center, has its soft reopening this week, with the CIAA men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments¹. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will headline 14,000 seat building’s Grand Opening on April 7.
Most venue owners, whether teams or municipalities, choose to build new facilities rather than renovate when their current buildings are deemed to be outmoded. Thankfully, over the last 15 years or so, environmental considerations have played an increasingly prominent role in most new North American stadium and arena projects. LEED certification for new construction, once a novelty, is now the standard.
But is building ‘new’ the most environmentally effective way to upgrade?
Oak View Group, CFG Bank Arena’s operator, opted to renovate the 61-year-old structure. A key insight gleaned from a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) conducted by the engineering firm Buro Happold helped make that decision clear-cut: It revealed that there would be massive embodied carbon benefits by going the renovation route.
Today’s GSB dives into embodied carbon and how analyzing it showed that renovating CFG Bank Arena was the way to go from environmental sustainability and other metrics.
The city of Baltimore needed a modern, state of the art arena.
Its 61-year-old Civic Center had an impressive history: The Beatles played two raucous concerts there on their first US tour in 1964. And the arena was home to great, if not quite NBA champion Baltimore Bullets squads of the 1960s-early 1970s, led by Basketball Hall of Famers Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe and Wes Unseld. The team left for nearby Washington — and a new arena — in 1973 before ultimately being renamed the Wizards.
Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe, then of the Baltimore Bullets, shoots over future teammate and fellow Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier of the New York Knicks at the old Baltimore Civic Center (Photo credit: Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame)
Fast-forward 45 years or so and the downtown arena desperately needed an upgrade to be able to continue to draw top sports and entertainment events. The city of Baltimore, which owned the arena, was exploring whether to go the new construction route or to renovate.
New construction is the way most venue owners and operators choose to go. Shiny new stadium and arena projects, apart from the often-contentious funding debates that go with them — i.e., should taxpayers contribute to the building of a venue for a billionaire owner — are sexy, after all. Futuristic computer-aided-designs on a stylishly designed website excite fans. The promise of copious premium seat revenues titillates venue owners. Elected officials and union leaders alike get jazzed by projections of new jobs. And the promise of a LEED certification can help check a green box.
However, when all factors are combined, new isn’t always the best way to go from an environmental sustainability perspective, especially when ‘embodied carbon’ is part of the consideration set.
What Is Embodied Carbon
Traditionally, sustainability in the built environment has been focused on building operations, specifically energy efficiency, in addition to water use reduction and waste reduction. However, with innovation and increased scrutiny from stakeholders, the scope of sustainability has expanded to include the carbon emissions associated with building materials. Embodied carbon represents the equivalent carbon emissions (CO2e) produced by the manufacturing and production of materials for construction.
When deciding between building a new sports and entertainment venue and renovating the current facility, should embodied carbon of the two projects be part of the decision process?
Life Cycle Assessment Tells the Score in Baltimore: Renovation Wins
To Oak View Group, the operator of the Baltimore Civic Center — now known as CFG Bank Arena — the answer to that question was a resounding yes. It was able to measure the $200 million renovation project’s environmental impact relative to new construction by using engineering firm Buro Happold’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) toolkit.
One thing LCA does is give decision makers visibility into embodied carbon emissions. This includes the impacts of creating building materials, such as the energy needed to mine and manufacture them, the emissions associated with transportation and logistics, as well as operational and end-of-life emissions associated with those materials.
The LCA Buro Happold conducted for the CFG Bank Arena project, showed that renovation would be a clear winner when it came to embodied carbon versus new construction. And the results of the actual renovation were stunning: As compared to a new build, renovation of CFG Bank Arena:
- Reduced the embodied carbon of structural materials used by 95 percent to 8,000 megatons
- Avoided 50,000-plus tons of structural waste that otherwise would have resulted from demolition
- Saved 6 million pounds of steel that would have been melted or disposed of
- Kept 24,000 cubic yards of concrete from ending up in landfills
Overall, the renovation of CFG Bank Arena had 800 megatons of CO2e of embodied carbon. That is only about five percent of the estimated embodied carbon — 15,500 megatons of CO2e — a brand new arena on the same site would’ve had.
Infographic from engineering firm Buro Happold clearly demonstrates that renovation was the clear winner from an embodied carbon POV vs. new construction
Beyond that impressive scoreboard, the renovation project was able to preserve the downtown arena’s ample historic and cultural heritage. And it avoided significant noise and air pollution from demolition and construction, as well as water use and waste, that a new building would have brought.
While renovating the CFG Bank Arena looked to be a clear-cut win for all concerned, other sports venue renovate-versus-build decisions are more nuanced.
For instance, Kansas City Royals ownership has signaled that they are looking to move from 50-year-old Kauffman Stadium in the eastern suburbs to a new downtown ballpark. In this case, while the embodied carbon metric would very likely be favorable for a renovation, a move downtown will likely mean that many more fans could take public transportation than is currently the case, which would be a plus for the new stadium argument.
Artist’s rendering of a proposed downtown ballpark for the Kansas City Royals (Credit: Kansas City Royals)
Roughly 500 miles to Kansas City’s northeast, the NFL’s Chicago Bears are looking to make a move in the opposite direction, from downtown to the western suburbs.
The team announced in September that it is under contract to buy 326 acres in the western suburb of Arlington Heights. While the deal hasn’t closed, the plan is for the Monsters of the Midway to leave 99-year-old Soldier Field (which they rent from the city of Chicago) for a new stadium after the current lease expires in 2032. Ownership feels that its current digs are too antiquated, that any renovations will not be enough to get the league to award a coveted Super Bowl to The Windy City, and that they would rather own than rent. Unfortunately, it says here, embodied carbon and the environment seem not the key drivers of this decision. If they were, it is a good bet that the Bears would stay in their renovated home on the shores of Lake Michigan.
So, these decisions can get complicated.
What’s not complicated is this: Embodied carbon must be considered in every renovation-versus-build decision.
It is no surprise that the management of CFG Bank Arena made embodied carbon a key metric. The environmentally-forward venue is one of 18 founding members of Green Operations and Advanced Leadership (GOAL), a new and growing platform from Oak View Group and three equity partners — the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, Fenway Sports Group, and the architect James F. McClennan — that helps sports and entertainment venues operate in environmentally sound ways.
¹ The CIAA or Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association is a league comprised of 12 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) that plays in the NCAA’s Division II: Bowie State, Claflin University, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, Johnson C. Smith University, Lincoln (PA) University, Livingstone College, Shaw University, St. Augustine’s University, Virginia State, Virginia Union, and Winston-Salem State