Renovations for Memorial Stadium upgrades proposed

Blue and orange seats line the bleachers at Memorial Stadium on Thursday afternoon. Nick Kohout

Blue and orange seats line the bleachers at Memorial Stadium on Thursday afternoon. Nick Kohout

By Erin Renzas

Memorial Stadium plans to begin a wide-scale renovation of Memorial Stadium continue to take shape although no formal approval from the Board of Trustees has been given.

The proposed renovations were presented to the Board of Trustees in July, along side a feasibility study done by HNTB Architecture of Kansas City, Mo. The study, although not complete at the time of the presentation, investigated potential architectural and mechanical upgrades and analyzed financing needed for the project.

Associate Athletic Director Warren Hood said the Board has yet to give formal approval for the project. However, it did authorize its executive committee to award HBTN Architecture a $1.67 million contract for detailed designs for the construction. The money to finance the project must be raised prior to formal approval by the Board. Fundraising is expected to begin this fall.

The proposed Memorial Stadium renovations include: a 19,000-square foot addition to the club space with private restrooms and concession facilities; a mezzanine level in the Great Hall on the stadium’s east side; 49 climate-controlled corporate or privately sponsored suites; and improvements to the press box, concession area and bathroom facilities.

Seating would be added on the west sideline, south horseshoe and north end zone. Total seating would decrease 4,056 seats from the current 69,199 seats to 65,143. The plan also calls for lowering the field in order to improve viewing from lower seats.

“The stadium, while it is a very revered and well-cared for facility, is getting on in years, and it does have some basic infrastructure needs,” University Spokesman Tom Hardy said.

Hood added that it is important for the University and the athletic program to bring the stadium up to par with other stadiums around the nation. The University also is the last school in the Big Ten to undergo such renovations.

The project would be financed through a variety of methods including a $5 surcharge on all tickets except students’, advertising, and revenue from private suites, club seats and naming rights. The University has the potential to raise between $127 and $145 million for the project, Hardy said.

The renovation would take place in phases as to not disrupt the football season and would take between 3 and 4 years to complete, Hardy said. An accelerated time-table suggests that the renovations could be completed by the 2008 season.

The University also plans to work with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to preserve the historic character of the stadium.

“We’re not going to cover the colonnades,” Hood said. “We’re not going to touch the towers. Anything that is of historical nature or value we will not touch.”

While most stadiums build on to the outside of their facilities to reduce costs, the University plans on building inside of the stadium to preserve the stadium’s overall character, Hood said.

“Memorial Stadium has been used by hundreds of thousands of students, fans and alumni,” said Kent Brown, assistant athletics director of public relations. “It is a symbol of the University. Now we are at the point where these renovations are necessary.”

This will be the first major renovation for the stadium since it was dedicated in October 1924. Minor contruction was done in 1992 to replace concrete in the east and west balconies.

Currently, the stadium is a mixture of Georgian Revival and Neoclassical architecture. The second story is a colonnade of paired limestone Roman Doric columns representing University of Illinois students who died in World War I.