Refurb paves way for Neyland’s 100th birthday
The University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium remains one of college football’s most storied venues, but parts have gone largely untouched since it opened in 1921. A $340 million renovation over the next four years will change that.
The SEC school will look to keep the seating at college football’s fifth-biggest stadium above 100,000, Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie said. It now has 102,455 seats.
The renovations date to 2004 during Currie’s first stint in Tennessee athletics as an associate director, when officials were assigned to come up with a long-term solution for the facility’s second century of operation. Last year, several months before Currie came back to Knoxville as the school’s athletic director, sports architect Populous completed a master plan to bring the building up to par with fan amenities at other college stadiums and improve overall flow. The plan was ultimately broken down into two phases and is scheduled for completion in 2021, in time for the stadium’s centennial.
The first phase, $180 million in upgrades to the south end zone, kicks off next summer and is scheduled for completion for the 2020 season. The second phase, at a cost of $160 million, will focus on renovating the east and north sides, and upgrading the stadium’s technology.
When it’s finished, the Neyland Stadium renovation will stand as one of the five most expensive renovations in college football. Funding comes from a mix of fundraising and stadium-related revenue, including the sale of some new suites.
|The planned south end zone club features stacked stone and hints of Tennessee orange.
There are naming opportunities remaining for some spaces to help pay for construction. The name of the stadium and the playing surface, known as Shields-Watkins Field — named for an old Tennessee trustee and his wife in return for a $25,000 gift in the early 1920s — are off limits, he said.
The south end still has old dormitory space where James Haslam, father of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, lived when he played for Tennessee from 1949 to ’52. Those dorms, as well as old classroom spaces, restricted concourse width to about 12 feet, presenting a tight squeeze for fans entering the stadium.
The dorms will be demolished to develop a new signature gateway on the south side, which faces the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee River.
The new south entrance is tied to a large outdoor plaza, and adjacent to a pair of school of engineering buildings that will be torn down and rebuilt in a separate project. The entrance is “befitting the history and tradition” of Tennessee, where coach Robert Neyland, for whom the stadium is named, studied engineering as a UT student, Currie said.
Two new stair towers on the southeast and southwest corners will help alleviate congestion for fans walking to the upper portions of the stadium. All told, the 20 existing gates will be reduced to four much larger entrances, said Craig Kaufman, a senior architect and principal with Populous. Heery and local firms MHM and Cope Architecture were selected to complete the design process.
In addition, a new field-level club will be constructed behind the south end zone that will fit up to 1,800 season-ticket holders who have seats elsewhere in the stadium. Patrons will get access to an indoor lounge and can hang out on the field.
In the southwest corner, midlevel in the stadium, the plan is to build 15 new suites with outdoor seats, which is something new for Neyland’s premium seat holders. The 110 existing suites all have indoor seating behind glass walls. The new suites will each have 12 seats in the bowl with drink rails.
Currie said the appetite for a premium experience remains high despite a spate of mediocre seasons over the past several years. As part of the master plan, market research firm CSL International completed a study that showed demand for the field level club. Plus, there’s a waiting list for potential suite holders and the 1,000 high-end club seats are sold out, Currie said. Tennessee will sell the new suites in-house.
For all premium seats, a big improvement will be the addition of full-service kitchens for Aramark’s catering operation. Food now must be prepared off site, Currie said.