10-29-02, 4:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
While Paul Brown Stadium savors another major architectural award, its grass is preparing to undergo heavy scrutiny in three December games.
With field turf still on the table as a possible artificial option, the Bengals' games against the Ravens Dec. 1, the Jaguars Dec. 15, and the Saints Dec. 22 loom as the acid test for a much-maligned field that received a vote of confidence this past weekend by the NFL.
"The ownership of the Bengals has said December will tell the truth," said Eric Brown, the stadium's director. "Then we'll know if our new system is working when the grass stops growing and the roots stop growing. If it doesn't hold up, I'm sure there will be discussions about artificial fields, but we want to give the best shot we can for a grass surface. We're in better shape than we were last year."
PBS took home another prize recently as one of 11 winning projects in the 2002 Business Week/Architectural Record Awards program. It was the only sports facility on a list chosen for the best combinations of successful architecture combined with strong functionality.
A NFL observer at Sunday's game gave a positive report and told Brown the grass played as well as any field in a northern climate. Running back Eddie George and quarterback Steve McNair of the Titans said they had trouble with the field Sunday, echoing some of the Chargers'
comments from last month's opener, but the NFL advised Brown they didn't need to re-sod the field before the Bengals' next home game Nov. 17 against Cleveland.
The stadium hopes to host a Ohio High School Athletic Association playoff doubleheader Nov. 10. Brown doesn't expect much damage, since the preps play on a wider field because of the hash marks.
"The field this year has not been perfect, but it's been a solid grass field," said Troy Blackburn, the Bengals director of business development. "The prudent thing to do is to wait and see how it responds over the course of an entire year to the changes we've implemented during the season and offseason. What's easy to find out is what kind of surface the players don't like. It's harder to find what kind of surfaces they do like. Obviously, the most attractive is grass."
PBS went to more of a soil base during the offseason. What started out as 90 percent sand and 10 percent peat is now 20 percent soil and 80 percent sand. They also re-sodded the field earlier than ever this season before the Sept. 29 Tampa Bay game, the sixth game in 36 days on the field. They are also prepared to re-sod after the Browns game in preparation for December.
Blackburn, the club's former director of stadium development, called the building's latest honor "significant."
"This award carries considerable weight, so everyone associated with the project should take great pride in this accomplishment," he said. "It reinforces what the building's prior awards have indicated: that Cincinnati has one of the leading stadia in the entire world and one of the elite buildings in the NFL This is a significant achievement for the architects and for Hamilton County, and we applaud the great work that was done."
In May of this year, the Architectural Record named PBS as one of the four best stadiums in the world for providing "iconic imagery to help revitalize cities."
The April, 2002, issue of Architecture magazine noted that PBS' open design, exposing views of the downtown skyline and Ohio River, "was both good urban design and good business."
In 2001, PBS received the annual Merit Award from the American Institute of Architects (California Council). It marked the first time for an NFL stadium to receive the award from the prestigious AIA.
In May of 1998, well before its completion, studies of PBS' design led to its being among 15 winners from a field of more than 300 projects for an American Architecture Award.