The first priority, according to Tim Cahill, HNTB's national design director, was a low bowl design, creating a stadium where fan seats are closer to the field, similar to collegiate facilities. That concept was specified by John York, co-owner of the 49ers with his wife Denise. The other priority was placing the luxury club suites in a proscenium-like structure on the west side of the field, allowing more general admission seats to fill the rest of the C-shaped stadium. In essence, the new design levels the playing field for luxury suite holders and general admission fans.
"Some of the stadiums isolate those fans from each other, the Yorks have never really wanted to do that, they want this to be about an enhanced fan experience for all patrons," Cahill said.
The seats will be in two shades of red, reflecting California's wine making heritage. That the reds closely match the team's maroon color also serves as an artistic unifier.
A big emphasis is on open spaces, terraces and glass-enclosed lounges so the field and game action are visible throughout the stadium. Fans will enter the stadium via escalators that will lead to a main terrace with a panoramic view of the field. The end zones will have additional terraces, giving fans a place to congregate near the goal posts. Those terraces can be outfitted with additional seating should it be necessary to meet the needs of a high-capacity event, such as a Super Bowl. Even the club suites structure will have a high-volume glass lounge with expansive views of the field. The top of the club suites structure will have a grass roof, planted with native California species. (It sounds similar to the one at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.)
"People are going to be able to go to the roof deck, there's a garden there with existing regional species, that means water-resistant, natural grasses that don't need to be watered artificially, just the rain water will be fine and a recycled wood deck, and it's shaded by solar panels," design director Fernando Vazquez said.
The stadium will also be built so it can accommodate the technology of today and tomorrow. Such technology might include the ability to order food and beverages from seats and watch game action on hand-held devices. These are only examples of possible capabilities, not announced features. Even signage and branding can be easily changed to feature legendary 49er players on a rotating basis or to accommodate another team or event using the facility.
The schedule calls for the new stadium to be ready in 2015.
The city of Santa Clara will be selling up to $40 million in bonds next year as its share of the $987 million cost. It's crossing its fingers there will be buyers in hopes of a better economic climate next year.