The Fun Also Rises

May 21, 2020

Extreme or unique topography—or the transformation of a flat site into such a site—along with an extreme and unique experience for visitors: These are the challenges that CEC staff face for tourism and recreational projects.

How do you make sense out of such a large, complex project? In addition to the services that virtually all land development projects need, CEC staff also understand the importance of visitability (that is a word!), visibility, the drop-off/entrance experience, emergency ingress/egress, “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) concerns, and specific utility needs. Cost and schedules are always of paramount concern to the client, and CEC’s expertise has helped to expedite plan review and permitting on highly sensitive projects. Many clients are out-of-towners; CEC’s combination of expertise and strong personal relationships with all involved entities, especially relationships with the local municipalities, facilitates the project.

CEC provided design, permitting, stormwater retention, and other services for TopGolf Glendale, resulting in a new prototype facility.

Creating a New Prototype in Golf

Topgolf is a global sports entertainment enterprise with more than 50 facilities throughout North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom, entertaining 13 million guests annually. Players hits golf balls equipped with computer chips toward 11 giant dartboard-like targets on a 215-yard outfield that registers accuracy on a specific target. A team from CEC Phoenix was chosen to provide site planning and stormwater retention services, among other services, for the Topgolf location in Glendale, Arizona.

Project design and permitting was completed within six weeks and was the fastest that any prior Topgolf facility had accomplished.

The biggest challenge for CEC was acquiring the ability to provide five-year, two-hour stormwater retention as opposed to 100-year, two-hour stormwater retention. A study was performed for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to determine correct flows in an adjacent ADOT channel. This was coordinated with the City of Glendale and the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), as an existing channel was already in place adjacent to the site that would accept excess stormwater volumes. A drainage analysis was prepared for ADOT that quantified the ability to allow excess site stormwater to enter the existing channel. The reduction of the stormwater retention allowed the site to reduce the footprint of the retention basins and provided additional parking for the project. This was a huge cost savings as underground retention pipe would have been required to meet the standard on-site retention requirements.

At one point, a classified challenge emerged and CEC was asked to perform three weeks of design rework in just one week. The team delivered.

Additionally, CEC increased the building’s capacity and increased the overall participant experience by including the potential for large-scale TV billboards in the outfield and expanded capabilities for dining and entertainment into the design.

“CEC was a fantastic resource throughout the project. At the beginning stages, the team (led by Jeff Erickson of CEC Phoenix) took the time to understand our goals and go out of their way to help us achieve them. They knew that we had an aggressive timeline, and worked to find technical solutions to meet our goals as well as being an advocate for those solutions to the City of Glendale,” says Tom Boerman, P.E. for Arco/Murray National Construction Company, Inc., the master design builder that handles the design and construction of all TopGolf facilities.

“When we find someone who works, thinks, and delivers like we do, we stick with them! Our work takes us all over the country, so finding trusted partners that we can count on is very important to our business.”

Topgolf Glendale is now being used as a prototype—the first of a new generation of Topgolf facilities—that is being rolled out throughout the US and internationally.

For the Indianapolis Zoo's Bicentennial Pavilion and Promenade, CEC provided survey services to the Zoo and collaborative services to the designer, RATIO Architects.

Celebrating Rainwater and Its Conservation in Real Time

The Indianapolis Zoo lies on approximately 64 acres near downtown Indianapolis and serves approximately one million visitors each year. The zoo obtained an $8 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to complete the Bicentennial Pavilion and Promenade, which would provide 40,000 square feet of weather-protected space for up to 1,000 seated guests at an underutilized area of the Zoo’s property. The Zoo planned to host concerts; picnics; events such as Christmas at the Zoo, the Halloween ZooBoo event, and Zoobilation (its annual fundraiser); and its new bird exhibition, Magnificent Macaws, at the facility. The Zoo wanted its focus of conservation to be visible in the design of the facility. It just wasn’t sure how.

CEC provided surveying services directly to the Zoo and then worked collaboratively with RATIO Architects to extend the Zoo’s value of conservation of animals to the conservation of rainwater for the design. After the team identified and accommodated existing utilities in the area, a “canopy” of metal structures with overlapping roofs was developed. Because the facility needed to shield large gatherings of visitors from the sun, rain, and storms, yet be open-air enough to allow air movement during hot weather and to allow the macaws to fly in from their habitat elsewhere on the property, RATIO Architects performed digital modeling to craft the ideal dimensions of the entire space.

The resulting design captures 100 percent of rainwater, dropping it onto metal panels and funneling it into 35-foot-tall wooden shade structures. To avoid erosion of the soil, the water then travels down a steel “rain chain” before dripping onto the plants below. Because the Zoo was looking to celebrate rainwater and to create opportunities for visitors to realize the benefits of conservation on their own terms, the team chose to make the rain chain fully visible to guests. The plants underneath thrive in saturated environments and each bed has its own water intake pipes. The water then travels into an aquifer and 14-foot-deep water detention bed designed to accommodate 100-year flood events. Throughout the project, CEC kept the project team apprised of local guidelines and regulations, and worked with the City of Indianapolis for approval of the drainage system.

Tom Gallagher, Principal of Urban Design at RATIO Architects, remarks that he has “gotten spoiled by the CEC folks” since he works with them regularly. “We have a similar approach in mindset. It’s a great teaming situation that is frankly rare as a designer–engineer relationship, and it’s something we don’t take lightly. The CEC team here in Indianapolis are used to working with us closely to take care of everything, including due diligence work that was navigated really well for this particular project. That’s very meaningful to us.”

The Zoo considers the project to be highly successful, and it was well received by the public. It won the Construction Award and the Landscape Architecture Award at the 2017 Indianapolis Monumental Awards, and it won the People’s Choice Award from AIA Indianapolis in 2019.

CEC provided site design, bridge design, and project guidance services to The Island at Pigeon Forge. Photo credit: Derek Cress Photography.
Photo credit: Derek Cress Photography.

Executing an Ambitious Vision for a Small Island

The Island in Pigeon Forge has become one of the most recognizable landmarks in Tennessee and the southeast. The 23-acre mixed-use development is located on an island and includes two Margaritaville hotels and more than 80 retail shops, restaurants, and attractions, including a 200-foot Observation Wheel with views of the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains. This destination combines all things fun for families and friends of all ages where you can eat, shop, play and stay. CEC provided surveying and civil engineering support for the redevelopment of this family entertainment center.

This dynamic and ambitious project had a tight schedule and needed to be fast-tracked to meet the goals of the ownership group, LeConte Village, LLC. Based on past experience, the owners had confidence that CEC could lead the dynamic design and construction support process. “We chose VISION Engineering (acquired by CEC in March 2014) based on their reputation in the industry and their strong relationships with all entities involved with the project, including me and my partners, key City employees, and contractors. Their relationships, reputation, and knowledge were keys to the success of The Island,” says Bob McManus, President of LeConte Village, LLC.

As the majority of the site sits on a small river island, dense land use, access, and parking considerations were critical elements of the design. New access to the development required three new bridge designs. CEC also designed the foundation for amusement rides, completed a structural assessment of existing structures for proposed change of use, and prepared conceptual designs for proposed expansions, including elevated building foundations, pedestrian bridges, and retaining structures.

Due to CEC’s efforts, the development opened on time, despite the strict timeline. “Our project was still taking shape during the early planning stages. James [Tomiczek] (owner of VISION Engineering and now lead of CEC Knoxville) and his staff were extremely flexible and responsive to our evolving needs. They provided clear and intelligent direction to us throughout a very complex and formative stage. It’s that type of support and guidance that we really valued. We trust James’ opinions. He understands our business—not just the engineering—and he provides strategically strong advice, delivered in a way that is clear and understandable to less technically oriented people,” says McManus.

“The team understands the industry, they understand the city, and (most importantly) they understand us,” McManus adds. “We have continued to use CEC on nearly all our new projects and will continue to do so whenever we have the ability to choose the consultants.”

Since The Island opened, millions of visitors visit the destination each year. The year 2019 was the second consecutive year it was ranked 6th Best Amusement Park in the U.S. and the 9th Best Amusement Park in the World, according to TripAdvisor. It was also ranked #6 of the “top 10 amusement parks in the U.S.” in a 2018 Today Show article, placing The Island in the company of Disney and Universal theme parks.


For such projects, it’s not enough to know technical engineering, costs, schedules, and relevant regulations. You also need to know the local terrain and people, and the customer experience. Your business venture can involve a roller coaster, but the development process doesn’t need to feel like you’re on one! If you approach your project from all of these angles, it will soar—or surf, sing, swim, educate, inspire, or transport—but above all, it will entertain.

About the Author

CEC Staff

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (CEC) provides comprehensive market-oriented consulting services to advance client strategic business objectives. CEC is recognized for delivering innovative design solutions and integrated expertise in air quality, civil engineering, ecological sciences, environmental engineering and sciences, manufacturing infrastructure services, survey/geospatial, waste management, and water resources.

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