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Watkins CEO pleased with second Indian Wells stadium

When pushed against a tight deadline on a facility scheduled to host one of the world's premier tennis events, some familiarity with the venue helps.

After a construction turnaround of just 10 months and 10 days, Stadium 2 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is open for play in the BNP Paribas Open, continuing this week through March 16. One of the faces behind its construction, Watkins Landmark Construction CEO Jody Watkins, said the successful push to meet the deadline was no accident.

As a former project manager at Clark Construction, Watkins worked on the construction of the Gardens' Stadium 1, completed in 2000. In many respects, he knew what to expect as he began the site's expansion last year, this time as the general contractor.

"We had a few lessons learned, put in from the first one," Watkins said days before the tournament.

The lessons spanned various construction details, he said. For one, he now knew how to avoid the embarrassment of 14 years ago when audio system feedback rocked the contractors' personal suite at Stadium 1 when it opened. He also knew how to improve on a tennis stadium's order of construction.

"In the first stadium, we didn't do the lower bowl until toward the end, which is seating right up to the court," Watkins said. "That hurt us because then we tried to work off the sand that was sloped down to the tennis court in a building that's been built around it."

The result was sand continuously pouring into areas where concrete was to be poured below. This time, Watkins knew how to avoid the problem.

Finding those little improvements was a key to meeting the Stadium 2 deadline, he said.

It also didn't hurt having the money needed to back any changes that came along the way. Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) and owner of the Tennis Garden since 2009, had initially figured on a $70 million project. By the end, the figure rose to $92 million.

The final stages of the project built out the restaurants featured by Stadium 2: the Chop House, Piero's PizzaVino and Nobu, the famous Japanese restaurant. Nobu’s design guidelines were so specific that the restaurant came with its own architect in what was otherwise a purely design-build contract for Watkins Landmark.

"The wood is teak, the wood floor is ipe — you're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars just in wood, possibly a million," Watkins said of Nobu's interior.

That Watkins could point to a list from Forbes magazine of wealthy people whenever there was an inquiry on the project's financial backing was enjoyable, he said.

"I had a lot of fun with this, because your typical construction project of that size, you're going to have a lender's representative, somebody that basically represents the bank on his own — everybody wants to confirm that the money is with the bank."

In this case, Ellison was the bank. Of course, with that kind of money came a high expectation, one that Watkins said was fulfilled since Ellison was kept informed throughout the build.

"He wants it now," Watkins added. "He wants it the highest possible quality. But if he feels like he's being gouged, we'll be gone before we know it."

The new capacity and draw of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden could place the BNP Paribas Open above the French Open and Wimbledon in terms of tournament attendance, though Watkins said it won't reach the levels of the Australian and U.S. opens.

The facility has come a long way since Watkins' built the 16,000-seat Stadium 1 in 1998. Much of its progress has come since Watkins Landmark was founded in 2004 in Solana Beach, and at Watkins' hand.

"When I started my own business, I always loved that project," Watkins said. "So I kept calling on the people that I made the relationship with there."

He made sure it was known that if any improvements, renovations or other projects were planned, he was interested. The communication paid off well before Stadium 2 came along, with Watkins landing jobs on smaller improvements, such as the addition of four practice courts and some seating amenities. Then he was called on to add the 20,000-square-foot shade structure he describes as "the hot hangout spot" at the Gardens.

"Hot at night, cool during the day," Watkins joked.

The persistent interest in working there came with some insight into what might be possible for the site. Though the idea didn't materialize in 1998 beyond a designer's estimate, a second stadium had been considered even then.

"Clark came back with a budget," including a second stadium "and it was twice what they wanted to spend," Watkins said.

Of course, Ellison wasn't the owner at that time.

"There was always the feel that the site was incomplete at the end," Watkins said of the facility that emerged as the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

The expansion has done more than just add the 8,000-seat Stadium 2 — it expanded the entire venue and added a new 12-kilovolt electrical backbone to the site, which had been showing signs of reaching capacity with occasional brownouts in past tournaments.

It added more than $1 million in landscaping, five new entryways and 1,800 parking spaces. Then there's the restaurants, and added seating amenities.

When he and tournament chief executive Ray Moore look at the site now, Watkins said, they can finally say it's complete.

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Watkins Landmark Construction

Company Website

6160 Innovation Way
San Diego, CA 92009

Watkins Landmark Construction Executive(s):

Jody James Watkins

  • Chief Executive Officer, President

Jennifer Watkins

  • Chief Financial Officer

Chris Eagen

  • Chief Operating Officer

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