Stadium prepares for makeover

Memorial Stadium is scheduled for a major renovation in the near future. Patrick Traylor

Memorial Stadium is scheduled for a major renovation in the near future. Patrick Traylor

By Nick Fawell

Memorial Stadium will be sporting a new look at the beginning of the 2008 season.

Renovations at the stadium will be creating wider aisles, adding new concourses, improving and increasing concession and restroom facilities, as well as improving sightlines to the field.

A major part of the project will be the addition of about 40 luxury suites on the west side of the stadium. Funding for the project, which will cost more than $100 million, will come in large part from presales of the luxury suites, said Warren Hood, associate athletics director.

Construction is scheduled to begin immediately following the 2006 season on the north and west ends of the stadium. The north end renovation, which includes the addition of 6,200 seats, is scheduled to be completed by the start of the 2007 season with the west end scheduled to be finished by the start of the 2008 season.

Hood said the football team will be playing at Memorial Stadium regardless of possible construction during the 2007 season. The construction would be designed to not interfere with the football schedule.

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    With intercollegiate athletics, corporate sponsorship is one of the primary sources of revenue, Vice Chancellor William Riley said. The new luxury suites will help entice corporate sponsors to invest in the project.

    “Corporations are willing to pay for places to host their clients,” Riley said. “Rather than take their clients on golf outings they can bring them to a University of Illinois football game.”

    There will be about 4,000 fewer total seats with about 65,000 seats total. Many of the seats taken out will be directly under the balconies – the traditionally less desirable spots.

    Average attendance the last few years has been about 55,000 per game, Hood said.

    Handicapped access is another important part of the new construction. Currently, only the south end of the stadium has handicapped-accessible seating. With the new renovations, all areas of the stadium will be handicapped friendly.

    “We want to upgrade the fan experience for all fans that come through,” Hood said. “Whether they’re sitting in suites or club seats it’s important for us to make sure that everyone that comes to the stadium is going to have some new feature that’s going to make their experience better.”

    A typical major stadium renovation rebuilds exterior walls to add new seating. However, in an effort to not build over the historic colonnades, the new seats will be built in front of existing seating.

    University football head coach Ron Zook said preserving the historic beauty of the stadium is extremely important because it also acts as a memorial for fallen soldiers.

    “You have people who died for us so that we can enjoy this and (preserving the stadium) is the way it should be,” Zook said. “We’re going to be able to have a beautiful facility but also take all the things that have remained beautiful since 1924 and preserve that.”