It’s uncommon to design a first-of-its-kind structure in the world of architecture, said Jill Monaghan, but the new KC Current soccer stadium — the first such facility being built specifically for a professional women’s team — scored her just the opportunity.
In her nearly 11 years with Kansas City-based Generator Studio, Monaghan — who serves as senior project designer and fun director — has worked with teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Seattle Kraken, and Tampa Bay Lightning to design and improve their facilities. The Current stadium, however, gives Monaghan and her design team one of their biggest challenges — and honors — yet, she explained.
“The project team itself is phenomenal,” Monaghan said. “It is mostly being women-led across the board, including the engineering teams. We have an amazing caliber and cast, if you will, of women all working on the stadium. And then to have the opportunity to do something that is the first of its kind doesn’t happen very often for most people in any industry but particularly in architecture. So it’s humbling.”
Aside from being a professional milestone for Monaghan — who was named a Top 2022 All-Star Executive Honoree by VenuesNow — it’s also an exciting milestone for the city, the Topeka native said.
The Kansas City Current broke ground on the privately-funded $117 million project in October at the Berkley Riverfront in downtown Kansas City. It’s expected to be completed in March 2024 in time for the Current’s fourth NWSL season. Along with Generator Studio, other construction partners for the project include JE Dunn and woman-owned Monarch Build.
“As a professional sports facility designed for women — as athletes, first and foremost — we want to make sure that every decision, everything that we’re doing enhances and supports their performance as athletes,” Monaghan continued. “Having a team of women that are all so talented and so focused on making the project a success has been another step in making sure that as the first of its kind it’s also going to be the best of its kind hopefully for a long time.”
She believes the stadium will help to change the game for women’s sports. Now when girls grow, Monaghan explained, they can dream of playing professionally in a stadium where they aren’t just a shared tenant with men.
“I think this will be the first of many purpose-built NWSL stadiums that will not only equalize the playing field, but also grow the game, grow the sport, grow the visibility, and continue to make everyone strive for newer and better,” she added.
Besides being built specifically for a women’s professional team, the stadium will feature other unique elements, like its position alongside the Missouri River, Monaghan noted.
“It’s along the Berkeley riverfront; the trail is right there,” she continued. “So we’ve really capitalized on that — from a design standpoint — trying to make it feel very park-like. It’s open along the north end, so that you can actually see the river. You can see the movement and the activity on the riverfront trail.”
The corners of the stadium will also be open, she noted, to provide a view of the downtown skyline from the stands.
“We’ve been really cognizant of making sure the stadium faces outward,” she added. “But also brings the context inward and really celebrates where it is and what it’s looking towards.”
With its defining location, Monaghan noted, comes more accessibility.
“It’s closer to downtown than a lot of the other professional stadiums, but particularly in Kansas City in the metro area,” she said. “It’s easy to get to with the streetcar extension they’re putting in by Berkeley. People can take the streetcar, they can drive, they can walk, they can bike. Lots of different ways to get there, which also makes it more accessible for a larger demographic.”
Joining an all-star lineup
While the KC Current was breaking ground on the project in October, Monaghan was being honored as one of the year’s all-star executives at the conference for VenuesNow, a leading trade publication owned by parent company Oak View Group, a global sports and entertainment company. The 30 honorees are the leading experts in their sector of the venue business, according to Generator Studio.
“Honestly, it was a complete surprise,” Monaghan said of being recognized. “It’s a huge honor. You look at the other people that were recognized this year and it’s amazing company to be in. Looking at the other award recipients, and there’s little, ol’ me, it’s like, ‘Holy moly. This is crazy.’”
She said the honor is also a great motivator.
“It has definitely been a good reminder to keep pushing,” she added. “I think all of us are always striving to get better, to do more, and to continue to grow.”
In the world of sports venues and management, Monaghan said, she’s used to being the only woman in the room. But over the past decade, she’s starting to see a shift.
“It used to be at the very beginning — when I would be in meetings with owners, reps, and team leaders on different projects — it was me and 20 men,” she explained. “It was intimidating. But people have always been gracious and very collaborative and wonderful to work with. With all the momentum over the last decade — getting more women executives, getting more training staff (and) performance staff working on teams — that equation is starting to balance out.”
Monaghan, who has spent her entire professional career at Generator Studio post graduation from Kansas State University, attributes a lot of her success to the KC company.
“I’ve been really, really lucky,” she said. “Working at Generator under Mike (Kress) and Tom (Proebstle) — who are the partners, founders, principals — they’ve always been exceptionally supportive about putting me in the room with people and supporting the work that I do and helping me grow as a professional. I think a lot of the exposure — and if I can say success — that I’ve had, it really is because of them and the opportunities that they’ve given me over time.”
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