SBJ/20041220/Facilities

Plan to add suites at 'Big House' is moving forward at Michigan

A long-anticipated plan to renovate Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is gaining momentum after University of Michigan officials said this month that they want to add premium seating inside college football’s biggest venue.

The project could approach the $223 million makeover of Ohio Stadium in Columbus, where Michigan’s archrival, Ohio State, built 82 suites, 2,500 club seats and other improvements from 1999 to 2001.

There had been no public discussion of the project’s cost as of early last week, but the Michigan athletic department was to discuss the issue with the university’s board of regents last Thursday, a source close to the project said. The stadium renovation wasn’t included in the meeting’s agenda listed online, however, and regent Martin Taylor said last Monday that he wasn’t aware that the board would address the subject. He expects the regents will take action on the renovation in the first quarter of 2005.

One thing’s for sure: The school has been talking for decades about improving the 77-year-old stadium and paid HNTB to design a master plan two years ago encompassing Michigan Stadium, Crisler Arena, Yost Ice Arena and other on-campus sports facilities. The stadium portion has been revised several times, said David Brandon, another regent.

HNTB’s Randy Bredar declined to discuss the updated design, and Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin didn’t return calls.

Jim Pieper, an independent architect with Pieper Sports Facility Consulting, left HNTB last April and is familiar with the master plan. He said the idea in 2002 was to build a three-level “superstructure” with suites and indoor and outdoor club seats on top of the seating bowl at the 107,501-seat stadium.

“The location for the suites isn’t necessarily the best in proximity to the field, but it gets into the politics of having the largest facility in the country,” Pieper said. “At one point, they were looking at options to go even bigger, jokingly [saying] up to 150,000.”

About 6,000 new seats were planned for the south end zone to compensate for the “seat kills” from erecting the superstructure, ensuring that the “Big House” would retain its status as college football’s grandest stage, Pieper said.

SHOOTING FOR THE HIP: The trendy Ghostbar, Rain Nightclub and Nine Steakhouse are planned for the W Hotel in development across the street from American Airlines Center in Dallas. That’s prompting the arena’s management firm to come up with new ideas to make the 3-year-old home of the NBA Mavericks and NHL Stars more appealing for a younger crowd, said Brad Mayne, president and CEO of Center Operating Co.

The Lounge, sponsored by Red Bull energy drink, opened officially last Tuesday for premium-seat holders and provides a “cool, sophisticated” spot with “futuristic furniture and fabrics and chrome accents,” Mayne said. Red Bull paid an undisclosed amount to convert a former dessert bar and has product exclusivity in the 800-square-foot space.

The arena is also working with title sponsor American Airlines to expand the Platinum Club restaurant by putting a floor above the south lobby space. Thirteen airplane replicas now hang from a ceiling 4½ stories above the ground floor in the lobby.

The new floor would cut the gap almost in half and create 2,500 more square feet for the club, Mayne said. Officials hope to begin the $2 million project next summer and would like to find a sponsor to underwrite construction.

DODGER DIGS: Among the retail locations Sportservice will operate at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles next year will be “Top of the Park,” a team store on the upper-deck concourse. Legend has it that the space was built as an apartment for former Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley for those late nights he spent at Chavez Ravine, said Gary Miereanu, Dodgers vice president of communications.

Sportservice is taking over the merchandise operation at Dodger Stadium, which also includes a smaller team store on the club level. The Dodgers previously did their merchandise in-house.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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