Sporting Shade

Photos Courtesy of Tim Phillips, City of Lewisville

Whether spectators are watching their kids play games or participants are seeking cool comfort between games, most everyone appreciates shaded areas around sporting facilities. And with a growing awareness of health issues such as skin cancer and heat stroke, shade structures are becoming more numerous.

Synthetic materials such as high-density polyethylene mesh (HDPE) are used in most fabric shade structures today, making them resistant to tears and fading while blocking up to 96 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays. The latest structures are water-resistant and designed to bear significant wind or snow loads. In addition, fabric shade structures do something solid-roofed structures cannot—they breathe. HDPE fabric is permeable, so hot air rises and passes through it, creating air circulation that reduces the temperatures beneath the structures by as much as 30 percent. These structures also offer many shade-design options that allow cities the opportunity to create a “signature look” for facilities.

Value-Added Shade

Cities have found that providing shaded facilities increases overall visitation to a venue while attracting tournaments and other special events. Toyota of Lewisville Railroad Park in Lewisville, Texas, is a multi-use sports facility that opened recently. The 274-acre complex features eight lighted soccer fields with hybrid turf and bleacher seating; four football fields with scoreboards; four baseball/softball fields with 400-foot outfield fences; three concession buildings with covered patios; three man-made lakes; a 1.5-mile walking trail; the city’s first skate park; and the city’s first dog park. Construction took just over a year and cost $20 million, making it the largest capital project in the city’s history. It was paid for through a dedicated quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters for library and park projects. The city has already benefited financially, first with the naming rights, a 10-year, $1.5-million deal with Toyota of Lewisville. The city’s Parks & Leisure Services Director, Bob Monaghan, notes that the facility has also been successful in attracting people from the sports tourism industry as well as other out-of-town visitors. “At the end of our first year, we saw an increase of 5,000 room-nights related to activities in the park,” he says.

Fabric shade structures can be found throughout the park. Monaghan adds, “The colorful structures give the area a bright and lively look.” They also have a purpose beyond the obvious shade benefits. He notes, “Basically, each sporting area has its own identifiable color: the soccer fields have green structures, the football fields have blue, and so on. The baseball diamonds have various colors for the bleacher seating, and help to identify the particular division. For our championship baseball field, we have a multi-colored, custom shade structure that adds identity as well as prestige.”

Aesthetic Appeal

Advances in fabric architecture have increased the design and aesthetic options from which to choose. City purchasers are also becoming choosier when selecting a shade solution. Structures—especially those that become a focal point for a community or facility, such as gazebos or pavilions, will become more distinctive as cities and municipalities decide on the image they want to project. The city of Colony, Texas, a town just north of Dallas, boasts a $7-million, 80-acre facility known as the Five Star Sports Complex. Shade is an abundant feature there with multiple pavilions, wrap-around porches on the concession buildings, and spectator shade structures on every field.

The sports complex includes six soccer fields, two football fields, and seven baseball fields, all with fabric shade structures. The signature structure is a five-star fabric structure in the center of the complex. Color-coded dugout shade structures, top rails, and scoreboards that enhance the ease of field identification are among the added benefits. Terraced seating also complements the spectators’ experience at the baseball fields.

Pam Nelson, the community services director, confirms the value of adding shade structures to a sports facility. “One of the things we’ve focused on is making our facilities user-friendly, not just for participants, but spectators. Part of that is drawn from my experience as a spectator at youth-sports events for many years. It’s tough sitting out in the sun, and there aren’t a lot of facilities that have spectator shade, particularly at football and soccer fields,” Nelson says. “We wanted to do something that took us a step above and make our facilities something people wanted to come to, and adding shade on all our ball fields was important.”

Permanent fabric shade structures can be designed in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Tensioned fabric can be twisted, overlapped, and angled into a limitless array of forms and color combinations. A number of overlapping sails can create an attractive accent and shaded shelter. Structures can be customized either to echo the existing facility, such as a cool green for the sake of continuity, or to establish a unique identity.

Nelson adds, “All the structures we’ve chosen have worked well, whether they’re fabric or pavilion-type structures. It’s one of the most positive things we could have done for this community. There was a lot of support from our citizens and the business community for this complex. Local businesses know that when there’s a tournament at the complex, they’ll be busy. They feel the impact because of the facility, and our economic development director is using the complex as part of his sales pitch. When businesses are looking at locating in a community, they want to know there are quality facilities and a good quality of life for their employees.”

Sarah van Wezel has a Master of Arts in Communications from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. She has been published in several park and recreation, architect, and playground publications. She can be reached at .