The Big Transformation

How ESPN turned an old warehouse into one of Houston's hippest Super Bowl spaces

How ESPN turned an old warehouse into a hip Houston Super Bowl space

ESPN The Party decor
The decor for ESPN The Party included hundreds of plywood panels emblazoned with images from ESPN The Magazine. Photo by Clifford Pugh

Every Super Bowl, party planners scour the host city for new ideas. So when organizers for ESPN The Party came to Houston last fall, they were looking for something unique. They happened upon a warehouse on Oliver Street in an undeveloped and ungentrified area near the Washington Avenue corridor and knew they had found the right spot.

"We kind of just fell upon it," Lauren Robinson, ESPN associate director, sports management and sponsorship activation, said during a preview tour of the space on Thursday. "We were looking in this area because this is kind of the up-and-coming arts district, with the silos and Sawyer Yards (nearby), and the new art studios. It just felt like a culture-heavy environment and we're all about culture at ESPN."

Like a lot of party planners, the ESPN team like empty warehouses, where they can create whatever they want to.

"We can just truly make it our own and bring it to life where we don't have to deal with the existing infrastructure and that sort of thing," Robinson said. "We like to just bring in our whole environment from scratch. We were just driving along the road and fell upon it. I literally just pointed at it and said, 'What's over there?' We started looking at it and it was ours."

Noting that Houston is a modern city with a lot of building going on, the team decided on a "construction chic" theme. "We usually like to embrace the environment that we come into, so because it was a warehouse and all the culture, artsy thing, we wanted to pay an homage back to the city of Houston and develop that construction site feel because we're ultimately in a warehouse," Robinson said.

Los Angeles-based production company Event Eleven created a second floor entirely of scaffolding in the 65,000-square-foot warehouse. "Because we're in a flat warehouse we wanted to make sure we could build up so that people don't walk into a room and say, 'Oh, this is just one big room,' " Robinson explained. "We built a second floor that didn't exist: we built a scaffolding for the stage. Scaffolding is everywhere, it's at the entrance. It's just an easy way to build and be creative. "

Construction equipment is strategically placed around the warehouse, emblazoned with strips of neon lighting in various colors to match the hundreds of flashing skeptrons on either side of the stage flashing where Fergie was scheduled to perform Friday night. "This is a super heavy lighting show," Robinson said.

The production team also created walkways made of metal fencing and thousands of panels emblazoned with sepia-toned photography of sports stars from the pages of ESPN The Magazine to add an edgy, unfinished feel to the space.

With less than 24 hours to go before Friday night's party, everything was pretty much done. Work began nearly two weeks ago and all that scaffolding will come down after the party ends early Saturday morning. The cost was undisclosed, but we're betting it equals the price of a nice-sized house near River Oaks.

"Because of the environment of the world right now, the city's been very insistent on inspections," Robinson said. "They want everything to be safe obviously, and we do, too. Our security and safety team have really been working closely with the city making sure everything is up to par and up to code so we don't have any issues. We're good."

Check back on CultureMap for scenes from ESPN The Party, which took place Friday night into the early hours of Saturday morning.