SEATTLE – Todd Turner said the fun part is over. Now the work really begins.
Turner, the University of Washington’s athletic director, outlined his plans to improve the Husky athletic facilities on Thursday, a project that could take a decade or two to complete and cost “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
At the forefront of the Turner’s vision are improvements to Husky Stadium, from adding restrooms and concessions to moving the stands closer to the field and adding permanent stands in the east end zone. Turner called Husky Stadium and the football program the “engine that drives the train,” as together they account for 70 percent of the athletic department’s revenue.
“We have 664 student-athletes we’re trying to give a championship experience to,” Turner said. “If the stadium doesn’t give us the revenue to do that, the viability of those 23 sports is compromised. This is incredibly important to the business of the athletic department.”
The university hired noted sports facility designer HOK, the same company the Sonics recently hired, to develop ideas of what would be viable given what the UW wants. Designs that the firm came up with show a Husky Stadium with a plaza on the southwest corner, an upper deck to the stands in the west end zone and stands that are closer with the track no longer encircling the field. But of course, all of that is simply on the wish list. Turner said the board of regents has authorized the Facilities Study Committee to use the next four-to-six months studying the opportunities and then present a more concrete plan that includes phases and funding strategies.
But Turner called the issues surrounding any improvements “daunting.” Washington has not started raising funds for the project yet, and Turner would not give any estimate on how much the entire project would cost. On top of that, a new Sound Transit station is set to be constructed in the parking lots west and southwest of the stadium beginning after the 2008 season, a project that could take 5 years to complete. In addition, the 520 floating bridge is also slated to be replaced.
Turner said no renovation of Husky Stadium would begin before the end of the 2008 season, as he would like to have the work be concurrent with the Sound Transit project. He said he doesn’t intend to wait until the other projects are finished before starting any renovation on the stadium.
“I don’t see how we can wait that long,” Turner said. “The stadium begs for attention now. It seems to be logical you would take advantage of the time and inconvenience that are in place to improve the stadium so that the fans’ inconvenience is not extended by years.”
Many possibilities of how to improve the stadium were presented, but Turner said whatever is done, it is important that the general structure of Husky Stadium and the views across Lake Washington have to be maintained. It’s unlikely that the capacity would change.
One of the biggest issues is finding a place to move the track in order to bring stands closer to the field. One possibility is to move it around the soccer stadium. Turner would also like to improve the football administrative offices as well as the locker room and weight facilities.
“Having great facilities increases everything,” Husky football coach Tyrone Willingham said. “It’s one of those things that speaks to the commitment of the program.”
The biggest issue facing Turner now is where any money is going to come from. Some possibilities include adding premium seating in the stadium and Turner said they would also look at naming rights. He said it’s unlikely the name Husky Stadium would be dropped but he left open the possibility of following the same structure implemented by the basketball arena, now officially known as Bank of America Arena and Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Turner said the athletic department takes on about $1.3 million a year in debt, which he said is pretty low relative to other athletic departments. He added that regardless of if any architectural improvements are made to the stadium, some maintenance must be done and that means finding funding and possibly taking on more debt, which would only be possible if attendance and donations stay at their current level. He said ticket prices would not go up – at least not next season.
Willingham said he understands that the success of the football program – which has won eight games in the past three years – is vital to the success of the entire athletic program.
Willingham said improving the stadium is important to recruiting, as players want to play in a stadium that “raises the hair on the back of your neck.”
And that’s why Husky Stadium is at the center of anything the UW does to improve what it hopes becomes an “athletes village.”
“You have to start with Husky Stadium because it is the biggest, most central part of our physical plan here,” Turner said. “It’s also the economic engine that drives the rest of our athletic programs.”