Kauffman Stadium Water Spectacular
Kansas City is so lucky to have the Kauffman Stadium Water Spectacular!
Great news! After beginning the 2021 MLB season with limited capacity, Kauffman Stadium is now operating at 100% capacity! This means that over 37,000 fans get to experience the largest privately owned fountain in the United States – the Kauffman “Water Spectacular”.
This infamous fountain at Kauffman Stadium has a history that includes a “just draw it on a napkin” Eureka moment, an All-Star Game design consideration, and a massive system of obscured-from-fans-view rooms underneath the stadium.
The Road to a New Stadium
In 1966, there were 2 sports franchises in Kansas City, the Kansas City Chiefs, owned by Lamar Hunt, and the Kansas City Athletics, owned by Charles Finley. Both teams played in Municipal Stadium at the time, but the AFL-NFL merger that same year required all football stadiums to have a minimum capacity of 50,000 fans. Since Municipal Stadium could not be expanded to meet the new guidelines, a new plan was set in motion to build a stadium that would house both KC professional teams. Governor Warren Hearnes appointed a 5-person team to the newly formed Jackson County Sports Authority. Their responsibility was to plan, operate and maintain a new sports complex. Finley refused to discuss the matter with the Sports Authority and Hunt, expressed extreme reluctance to sharing a stadium with a baseball club, stating that the teams each had different needs. Finley, eventually moved the Athletics to Oakland in 1967, but Hunt kept the idea alive, adding that instead of one stadium, why not build two stadiums, one for each team, and create a sports complex? And to sweeten the pot? Hunt promised a multi-million investment of his own money, and the future of Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums was solidified.
Meanwhile, the Jackson County Sports Authority laid two options on the table for the site of the new stadium; downtown, which badly needed some economic revitalization, and an area called Leeds, located in eastern Jackson County. The downtown choice was carefully studied, but the cost of new parking structures, land acquisition, and the need to centrally serve all of Jackson County, including Independence and Raytown, doomed the idea. The Leeds area, due to its large land size and centrally located eventually won the spot.
The Kansas City Royals came to Kansas City during an MLB expansion in 1969 and was bought by Ewing Kauffman, who wholeheartedly supported the two-stadium sports complex idea. Together, with Hunt, they signed a 25-year lease agreement with the sports authority and building proceeded.
The Design of the Fountain
A Kansas City architecture firm came up with the overall $43M design of the sports complex with its circular spiraling walkways and minimal use of supporting columns and piers. “Arrowhead” was christened in reference to the Indian theme of the Chiefs football team and “Royals Stadium” was named in reference to its tenants. The entire sports complex played homage to former President Harry S. Truman by naming it the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex. Construction began in 1969 and finished up for the 1972 NFL Season for the Chiefs and the Royals moved in their new home in 1973.
Ewing Kauffman promised that that new Royals Stadium be THE leading edge of all American baseball stadiums and set to work finding the right design elements. These elements incorporated two distinctive features; a massive electronic programmable scoreboard and an enormous water feature.
How the scoreboard influenced the fountain display
The scoreboard’s Initial design, by Arnold Holt, a Chicago architect, included the shape of the Royals logo, a royal crown, and 3 advertising panels set into the scoreboard crown. Kauffman believed that the panels distracted from the board’s overall design. Holt’s second attempt moved the panels to the ground level set into rectangular boxes to the right of the scoreboard. As an afterthought, a single column of water was drawn behind each of the panels. Kauffman’s mind went immediately to the potential for a magnificent water display and sent Holt back to the drawing board for a third time. However, a hastily drawn sketch on a napkin during a strategy session with principal stadium consultant Kenneth von Achen won Kauffman’s approval. The Royals Stadium Water Spectacular was underway! Today, stadium fans and viewers from across the country have viewed these spectacular fountains on television, and since a half-million gallons of water flows through the pipes during each game multiplied by 81 home games and then multiplied again by 48 years of their existence…well, that’s a whole lot of water!
Interesting quick facts about the Water Spectacular
Fountain Construction Budget:
- Initially estimated at $150K – $250K, but overbudget caused Kauffman to invest over $1.5 M of his own money
Fountain designers came from the USA and Canada:
- Anthony Mifsud, the owner of Canal Electric Motors and who designed the water displays of the 1964 New York’s World Fair was commissioned to design the fountain elements including the programmed cycles of action
- Peter Micha, the owner of Pem Fountain Company of Ontario, Canada was commissioned to develop the hydraulic and electronic controls and, also supplied the equipment
The shape of the fountain:
- The 322′ wide fountain wall follows the natural curve of the outfield wall and is composed of wings on each side of the scoreboard. Interestingly, the wings are not symmetrical in size with the east wing being considerably shorter. This is due to the Sports Authority’s anticipated event of hosting the 1973 All-Star Game and the space was earmarked for extra bleacher seating.
Fountain design – 2 tiers and a basin:
- The highest tier produces 70’ jet sprays which cascade 10’ down to the second tier
- The second tier produces its own jet sprays which again cascade down another 10’ to a retaining basin that recirculates the water
- The basin creates a cascading effect from 5 cuts in the walls in between the advertising panels
Programming of the Water Spectacular:
- 8 programmed “shows” with over 150 combinations of effects
- 600 nozzles with most of the nozzle heads built on a track which creates both bubbler and jet patterns, with others arranged in clusters to produce water castles, while still others are set at an angle to produce a water fingers pattern
Amount of water flow:
- One-half million gallons of water to fill the basins that can also be thrust upwards at any one time
The Pump Room:
- Underneath the stadium is a large maze of pipes, a road map of electronic circuitry, and 10 pumps. A central control board controls the series of water displays with 3 ancillary control rooms dispersed throughout the stadium
- Homeruns get their own special sequence of sprays; reportedly the only one of its kind. The pipe, which is bent at a right angle, produces a column of water that when rotated, creates a spiraling effect similar to a fireworks display
- 600 quartz lamps which add another visual dimension for night games with a variety of colors producing another level of awe-inspiring display
Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, affectionally known as the “K”, is one-of-a-kind in the nation of ballparks. Next time you catch a game at the stadium or watch one on television, make sure to check out the fountain…well, you really can’t miss them, can you?