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Massive Renovations Proposed for Michigan Stadium

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Massive renovations for Michigan Stadium. Proposed changes would alter game-day experience for fans Plan includes new suites, concourses

Thursday, January 20, 2005

BY JOHN HEUSER

News Sports Reporter

The University of Michigan is preparing for the most sweeping and expensive renovations in the 78-year history of Michigan Stadium, changes that would bring private suites and other premium seating to the venue, but may tighten the capacity of college football's largest stadium.

The university solicited bids this week from architecture firms to coordinate the renovations that could be finished before the 2008 season and cost more than $200 million.

"It's fallen on our watch to have to address the physical and functional obsolescence of (the stadium)," Michigan athletics director Bill Martin said.

In less than four weeks, the bidding process will close, then the university, with approval by the Board of Regents, will hire the company it expects to design the massive, two-year makeover that would change the game-day experience for virtually every fan and substantially alter the look of Ann Arbor's most recognizable landmark.

According to documents provided to The Ann Arbor News after the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request, Michigan officials favor a renovation plan that includes tearing down the 1950s-era press box on the stadium's west side and adding three-story structures that stretch the length of the stadium on each side.

The proposed buildings would top out at 85 feet above the concourse, 37 feet higher than the current press box. That would also mean the structures would be 10 feet, 5 inches taller the video scoreboards that dominate the skyline behind the stadium's north and south end zones.

Other than space for media, the new structures would also include raised concourses, additional restrooms and concession areas, along with 79 suites and club seating, money-making amenities that were never envisioned when Michigan Stadium was built for $950,000 in 1927.

Jason Winters, the Michigan athletic department's chief financial officer, said the additional revenue generated by premium seating is necessary to help fund such a broad project.

"To finance the (renovation) program in totality, you have to consider selling private suites, club section seats," Winters said. "That's no mystery."

Besides the three-story additions, seats in the bowl would be widened by an average of about an inch, the entrance portals and aisles would be widened, as well, and handrails would be added in some sections. There would be additional seating for disabled fans, and the number of restrooms and concessions are expected to be increased significantly.

The goal, according to Martin, is to make an afternoon at Michigan Stadium more enjoyable for everyone.

"If the guy sitting (in the bowl), you don't widen his seat, he still has a 10-minute wait to get out and go to the bathroom, and he misses half the third quarter if he wants a hot dog, he's going to look up at those guys sitting in those fancy enclosed seats and say, 'I'm paying for that,"' Martin said. "We don't want that. We want him to say, 'Look what they've done for me.' That's the acid test: Everyone sitting around saying, 'Yeah, I can see the difference."'

A change in seating

When the new Michigan Stadium opens, perhaps in time for the 2008 season opener against Miami of Ohio, most changes will be obvious:

According to the preliminary plan drawn up by HNTB, a Kansas City, Mo.-based architecture firm that's expected to bid on the stadium job, there would be 79 suites located in one of the three-story buildings. Each of the proposed suites would include 16 seats.

A recent market study showed the university could charge premiums ranging from $80,000 or $85,000 for suites located at the 50-yard line down to $45,000 for those located closest to the curves of the end zones. Martin said that financial giving to the athletics department will be a factor in determining which Michigan fans receive the first opportunity to purchase suites.

There could be 2,000 outdoor club seats, which include arms and seatbacks. Patrons in the club seating area would have access to a private lounge and might pay $1,000 for each seat. Indoor club seats may number 1,000 and cost $2,500 apiece.

There could be 1,200 new bench seats located in the area occupied by the current press box. Those seats would go for the price of a season ticket (in 2004, the best bowl seats cost $328 each), plus an additional annual required seat-license charge of up to $500 per ticket.

The number of women's toilets would more than double. The number of men's toilets and urinals would increase by 29 percent, and there would be nearly twice the number of concession points of sale. There also may be 57,000 square feet of additional concourse area, which would ease congestion outside the bowl.

In all, the 5,632 new seats (including 84 additional seats for disabled fans and 84 seats for companions) could yield nearly $15 million each year for the athletics department.

That money will be used to offset payments on 30-year bonds Michigan is expected to sell to finance the project - which may range in cost from $150 million to more than $200 million - as well as make up for lost revenue from a reduction in the capacity of seating in the bowl.

By increasing the stadium's average seat width from 17.05 inches to 18 inches and widening the aisles, the renovation would cut several thousand seats from the bowl in its current configuration. The worst-case scenario outlined in the plan called for a loss of 10,500 seats, which could reduce annual revenues by $4.2 million.

Michigan officials, however, expressed a determination to not let capacity dip too far below the current number of 107,501. Penn State's Beaver Stadium, capacity 107,282, ranks second in the country.

"We don't really want to go too crazy in reducing overall capacity," Winters said. "In fact, we'd love to be at or above where we are."

Maintaining tradition

The stadium's new look will not include advertising, and there are no plans to raise money by selling naming rights to any part of the facility, both standard business practices throughout the rest of college football.

Martin said he believes Michigan should maintain its traditional commercial-free look in the stadium.

"We're not even looking at those wonderful revenue streams that it would be great to have from a financial standpoint," Martin said. "But you're trading your values. Where do you draw the line? There is no clear-cut line. It's a visceral, emotional reaction."

The reaction from fans and the community to the renovation from an aesthetic standpoint is an important consideration, Martin added. He mentioned the widespread disdain for the bright yellow halo that Michigan installed around the stadium in 1998. The halo was removed two years later, and athletic department administrators took lessons from the experience to heart.

The architectural design goals listed by Michigan say the renovation should:

- Balance design to lessen the height, proportion and scale of any additions.

- Provide a design in the strong tradition and character of Michigan Stadium.

- Use architectural materials that are in context and scale with campus and stadium architecture.

"We're really sensitive," Martin said. "We know that whatever we put up there, it's going to change the character of Michigan Stadium from the outside. It just has to."

Michigan assistant athletics director Mike Stevenson said he expects an architect for the project to be selected by mid-March.

HNTB, which worked with the university on its preliminary plan, handled extensive football stadium renovations at Purdue and Ohio State in recent years. Michigan State and Iowa also employed HNTB for their stadium renovations.

Michigan officials said work would likely begin on Michigan Stadium following the 2006 season, and continue after the 2007 season.

"You would go in, dig up the asphalt on the concourse, put all the underground in, bring it right up (to the surface), then re-asphalt it," Martin said. "Then on the last day of the season, bingo, dig it all up again."

Martin - who said he's committed to remaining at Michigan until the project is finished - added that he would like to look at adding a multi-purpose building between Crisler Arena and Michigan Stadium. He views it as a place where the university or public could host events and increase the revenue-producing capacity of the 25-sport athletic department, which does not receive financial support from the university.

The monetary anchor of Michigan athletics, of course, is the football program, which accounts for roughly 73 percent of the department's annual revenue, according to Winters.

By fall 2008, the Wolverines may have an improved venue in which to play football, the athletic department could have the cash cow of private suites and club seating, and fans, too, may see their share of upgrades.

"You could never build a stadium like Michigan Stadium (today)," Martin said. "It's just functionally obsolete. You can start (talking about the renovation) with our objective of doing something for everybody in Michigan Stadium that they will notice."

John Heuser can be reached at [email protected] or (734) 994-6816.

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I've been to every game at michigan stadium for the past three years and it dosn't need renovations.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Agreed. What's the big deal? I haven't found the concession stands or bathrooms to be a problem. Luxury boxes are NOT needed. You might as well make it a damn domed stadium. And anything that lowers the capacity of the largest stadium in the country is going to be under heavy fire.

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I disagree. I think the changes sound cool. They do need to fix the aisle's, and an update to the concessions/restrooms sounds like a good idea. With the addition of the boxes, they won't actually lose any seats from the capacity. Also, having a new press box on one side and boxes on the other (if that's how they end up doing it) will add a lot of noise to the crowd, which has always been a criticism of Michigan Stadium. Having grown up in Ann Arbor, and attending nearly every game in my lifetime, I will miss the old feel (still miss the old scoreboards) but this has been coming for a long time, and I'm glad they're actually doing something about it.

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