|The north end zone expansion will add premium seating and a home for football offices. |
Some wanted to rebuild at another site, but Cal chose to address earthquake safety issues and refurbish its historic stadium at its original site on the Hayward Fault.
When the University of California began to look at rebuilding Memorial Stadium, no one expected a quick, easy project. The stadium sat on the Hayward Fault in an active earthquake zone, and had gone without major improvements since it opened in 1923.
And the 10-year journey from conception to completion didn’t disappoint. The $321 million project produced a series of obstacles that the school had to overcome, some 70 feet high among the campus treetops, where a lengthy tree sitters’ protest next to the stadium drew international attention.
“The shortest piece was the 21-month construction,” said Bob Milano Jr., Cal’s assistant athletic director of capital planning and management.
|Three new clubs are stacked on the west side; the University
Club deck (right) offers a picturesque exterior view.
In the end, Cal got what it wanted: It addressed the seismic safety issue through the upgrade, while providing a more enjoyable experience for fans. Building a true concourse with permanent concessions and restrooms finally brought the stadium up to date with other college football venues.
Upgrading those features alone was a vast improvement over the old stadium, where makeshift food stands could do little more than offer popcorn and lemonade. The toilets, mostly designed for men, had old wood partitions and low ceilings and were “awful,” said HNTB’s Joe Diesko, the project architect.
The old hallways around the stadium’s classic coliseum-style bowl were a scant 11 feet wide and “to call it a concourse was giving it too much credit,” Diesko said.
HNTB’s design called for gutting most of the stadium, lowering the field an average of four feet and creating a field wall to provide clear sight lines for those sitting closest to the field. In the old setup, about 4,000 fans sitting in the first eight to 10 rows along the sidelines could not see the game with players standing in front of them. Total seating has been reduced to about 63,000 from the stadium’s original 70,000 seats.
For players on the field, it “feels more big time, like you’re on stage … because you’re not at the same level as the fans,” Diesko said. “I don’t have a definition for what that means, but it’s definitely there.”
Developing accessible seating for wheelchair patrons was another important piece of the renovation after alumni informed Cal officials through focus groups that many of them could not attend games anymore because it was too difficult to navigate the stadium, Diesko said.
The three new clubs stacked on the stadium’s west side are tied to a long-term seat license program to finance construction (see box).
The stadium’s west wall was opened with arches built into the old facade to provide views over campus to the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. Fans could never enjoy those views before the renovation. Now, “people can’t believe they are in the same place,” Diesko said.
Early in the process, there were concerns over whether the stadium should be rebuilt on the fault line. Internally, some Cal faculty wondered whether it made better sense for the university to build another stadium at a new location, Milano said.
Complicating matters was the stadium’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, giving fuel to critics of the project who said the renovation would ruin the building, he said.
The city piled on with lawsuits filed over the project’s Environmental Impact Review, a document required for all new construction in California. Not to be outdone, the tree sitters delayed the project’s first phase by almost two years. A group of preservationists protested the removal of an oak grove to build the Simpson Center for Student Athlete High Performance next to the stadium. Hundreds of people lived in the trees from December 2006 until September 2008, when the few remaining protesters were removed from their roost.
During that time, the country fell into a recession. Construction prices dropped by 20 percent to 25 percent as contractors hungry for work gave bids far below estimates, Diesko said. As a result, officials got more bang for the buck in building the $15 million training center.
“The tree sitters actually helped the project,” he said. “There would have been chunks of that building unfinished and awaiting other funds as they might get donated.”
|Work is starting on the west side of the stadium, where new premium seating will go in. At left are renderings of loge level views of the club and the field. |
|Concrete foundations and steel are in place for the
expansion on the stadium’s east side.
TCU: Luxury, heritage and paid in full
TCU’s big donors help give an 82-year-old stadium all the best with none of the debt
Take a peek inside the Founders Club at Amon G. Carter Stadium to get the big picture of Texas Christian University’s unique funding model for facility renovation.
The stately club, one of the most luxurious in college football, is reserved for the group of six donors who all committed $15 million over the next five years to help fund construction. Their total contributions of $90 million are paying for the majority of the $164 million project.
In return, TCU built an entire suite level for them at midfield, 21 rows from the field on the stadium’s west side. The 6,400-square-foot lounge supporting the suites has a fireplace and a large replica of Frederic Remington’s “A Dash for the Timber” behind the main bar.
The founders had the freedom to select the finishes and decor of their own suites with 24 fixed seats and 22 bar stools. A cowhide-covered foot rest, the centerpiece of one unit, speaks to both a level of comfort and the city’s western heritage. After all, it’s their home on football Saturdays for the next 30 years, per their deals.
“There is nothing nicer in America,” said TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte. “This is their living room, their space.”
The funding model arose after TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. issued a mandate for the 9,500-student private school to fund the renovation without being responsible for the debt tied to selling bonds.
Colleges typically pay off those bonds with contractually obligated revenue generated from the sale of premium seats and private donations from season-ticket holders.
The TCU administration did not want financing for stadium construction to affect funding for future expansion on the campus, so officials made a budgetary decision and relied on donors’ commitments to pay off a five-year line of credit for construction, Del Conte said.
That model may not work many other places, but in North Texas, where oil money flows toward football like the Trinity River flows through Fort Worth, TCU raised $164 million without having to bond any debt.
Additional gifts of $1 million to $5 million to buy the 19 new Champions Suites, all 10-year deals, helped the school reach its total number.
“What a smart decision it was because we hit it right,” Del Conte said. “It’s unique and I’m really proud. Coming off the greatest economic downturn in modern times, we built the stadium debt-free. It speaks volumes of the community.”
By reaching that benchmark, the $25 to $3,000 annual fees tied to ticket prices for 12,500 seats in the stadium, including 2,400 new club seats, go directly to the school’s scholarship program instead of being used to pay construction debt. The total is $11 million a year, said Jeremiah Donati, director of TCU’s Frog Club, which administers the scholarship seating program.
Overall, the renovation resurrects the art deco design theme consistent with the architecture in downtown Fort Worth in 1930, the year the stadium opened. During its initial research on campus, officials from project designer HKS found the original drawings for the stadium, which were full of art deco elements, said Jerry Fawcett, the firm’s associate principal and senior vice president. But early in the Great Depression, the school could not afford to incorporate all the design details and they were scrapped.
“It was supposed to be a much more upscale building,” Fawcett said. “It was stark and bare, not unlike a lot of stadiums built in that era. We were able to connect with their history and build to some degree what the intentions were always meant to be. We were very fortunate in that regard.”
The stadium redesign produced such a strong emotional connection between TCU alumni and supporters and city leaders that Fawcett believes it helped boost the school’s effort to raise money for the project. “I don’t think it hurt,” Donati said.
The retro design also fit with TCU’s goal to create the “Camden Yards of college football.” The catch phrase came from Danny Morrison, TCU’s former athletic director, who left the school in September 2009 to become president of the Carolina Panthers.
Morrison originally hired HKS in 2006 to develop a master plan for stadium upgrades. Two years later, TCU opened a new building in the south end zone with six suites and a club lounge, plus football operations facilities.
“Two donors came to Danny and said, ‘We want to do something for the team and the fans, and we want to do it right now,’” Fawcett said. “It was the first premium product TCU ever had and set the tone for everything else.”
In keeping with the art deco theme, concession signs were designed to look like old movie theater displays. Concourse ads have a faded look to make it appear they were painted on the walls from the old days, said T. Ross Bailey, TCU’s associate athletic director.
Pepsi went the extra mile and custom designed a special logo from the 1930s at TCU’s request. To complete the “distressed look,” Bailey said, project officials found a 3M product for a vinyl graphics that when treated with a heat gun sucks the colors into the brick.
For a stadium that prefers to look old, the building embraces new technology. Cisco’s StadiumVision gives TCU the ability to “wrap” ad panels around game broadcasts on the facility’s 268 high-definition televisions.
AT&T invested in wireless infrastructure to improve coverage for mobile devices. Verizon and Sprint will soon follow with their own systems, Bailey said.
Bypass Lane, a mobile concessions company whose investors include Texas pitching legend Nolan Ryan, has dedicated lanes at 14 concession stands. Fans can text their orders from smartphones and receive a return text for pickup.
The six Founders donors are recognized on concourse pillars and on busts in a plaza outside the stadium. “So many buildings you walk into, nobody ever knows the story for who they were named for or who put the money behind them,” Bailey said.
|Washington will have a completely rebuilt stadium but keep
its iconic site on the shore of Lake Washington.
|A stadium that had only six suites before the renovation
now has a full premium inventory to offer.