When the final designs for Husky Stadium were released in January of 2009 most of us were completely blown away. The renovation plan preserved what was great about Husky Stadium and also brought it into the 21st Century. It didn't add capacity immediately but it provided improved sight lines, convenience, safety, comfort, and most importantly it brought the fans right down onto the field to be closer to the action.
The track would be removed, the playing field lowered by around eight feet, the lower bowl completely rebuilt, a renovated or rebuilt South Deck, and a shiny new football headquarters, and press center would be built in the SW end zone. The renovation expected to cost in the neighborhood of $300 million would give Washington a stadium on a par with Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota, and Texas which have all renovated their own large stadiums in the last ten years.
In the Pac 10 Oregon, Oregon State, and Stanford have all extensively remodeled or rebuilt their football stadiums over the last decade. California will begin there own $320 million dollar remodel this winter. UCLA will soon be playing in a remodeled and refurbished Rose Bowl. Even Washington State is plugging along on a plan to finish the renovation and expansion of Martin Stadium.
Washington had to do something or continue to fall behind the other schools in the conference. There was even talk of moving the team downtown to play at Qwest Field and tearing down the stadium to expand the medical campus because the bowl of the stadium was starting to crumble and the south stands were not up to current seismic standards.
Washington started working toward putting together a plan to remodel the stadium soon after then AD Todd Turner stepped on campus in 2004. One of his first statements to the press was in regards to removing the track and moat in the football stadium and bringing the stadium up to modern standards.
By 2005 committees were formed and studies were started regarding coordination with 520 and Sound Transit construction which was a very complex issue. The possibility of the three huge construction projects going off simultaneously in the same area was daunting. HOK was picked to develop possible plans for the stadium and most importantly of all a cost estimate on what it would take to get it built.
In 2006 the project stalled a bit over coordination concerns with 520 and Sound Transit. There was even a possibility that construction would not begin until 2015 because of the impact of those projects. Another huge complication was that the team wasn't winning or popular under then coach Tyrone Willingham and attendance was beginning to shrink. Finally there was that little matter of raising $300 million.
The delay of the 520 project ended up keeping the construction window open and the UW began to lobby the Legislature under the lead of Scott Woodward and Dan Evans in an effort to secure $150 million for the project to be matched by $150 million from the private sector. The Legislature didn't buy off on it over two consecutive years and the University decided to proceed alone in May of 2010.
Washington's plan when executed as early as this winter will give the University one of the elite college stadiums in the country. The location of Husky Stadium on the banks of Lake Washington is the best in college football. Nothing really compares to the views of the stadium from outside and within.
The advantages of playing in a venue like this gives Steve Sarkisian and his staff all the tools to develop a perennial top ten program. Washington will no longer be playing second fiddle to a school in their own backyard when it comes to facilities. The rebuilding of Husky Stadium is not great news if you are a Duck, Cougar, or Beaver fan.
One of the driving forces of the project right now is that it won't cost $300 million. The committee is thinking that they can bring it in South of $200 million which is less than one/third of the expected cost. A few amenities may be cut or shelved for the future to save on initial costs to achieve that goal.
The new locker rooms and weight facilities may have to wait. Perhaps the whole football operations and press center may not be built in this phase. Perhaps they only build it out to a shell. The important thing is that the crumbling stadium will crumble no more and millions of dollars that were being used per year in maintaining a relic can be diverted in a better direction.
When Scott Woodward was asked about the capacity of the stadium he surprised most in attendance that it might be less than the current 72,500. In fact he said it may end up in the mid to high 60's when it was finished. He stressed he leans toward going smaller because it would increase the value and quality of the ticket.
No expansion with a possible small reduction in capacity keeps neighborhood groups in Montlake and Laurelhurst happy. No reason to fight the war to expand a stadium that hasn't been full on a regular basis for most of the decade. Increasing capacity won't be in the cards till the Sound Transit and 520 projects are complete near the end of the decade which makes sense.
The Sound Transit project has the ability to greatly reduce area congestion on game days. With a system that will one day stretch from Federal Way to Everett and across the lake to the Bellevue/Redmond area driving directly to Husky Stadium on game days may be a thing of the past for many fans starting six to ten years from now.
In a perfect scenario the University would not have to sell naming rights. Without public money the selling of naming rights is probable if there is actually a market for such a thing in this economy. Husky Stadium would remain a significant part of the name in any naming scenario. Microsoft Field at Husky Stadium anyone?
As for public money the University plans to ask the Legislature for public funds again during the 2011 session. Even though they are prepared to do this project without public money the debt load can be significantly reduced by the infusion of money from the state which would benefit all parties including the fans that buy the tickets.
In the meantime the athletic department will move into a major fund raising mode. The hope is that they can raise $50 million or more from major contributors over the next six weeks to get the project rolling at the end of the 2010 season.
There is also the chance that some major sugar daddies can come up to the plate and fund most of the costs. Even with a down economy there are still huge potential contributors in the Puget Sound area who can write a single check to fund the project without feeling it. Perhaps the synergy of the project going forward can stimulate that type of giving.
Season ticket prices and Tyee fee's will undoubtedly increase in 2012 when the stadium is once again ready for occupancy. Any increase will be tough on fans in general in this economy and especially hard on those with fixed incomes. The remodeled stadium however will give the athletic department much more potential to tap significant revenues on game days which will help pay down debt and balance the athletic department budget.
The future of Husky Football and the Washington athletic department is now secure for today and into the future. That is something most of us were beginning to seriously doubt only three years ago. Get excited because the University of Washington has made a commitment to college football which will stretch into the next century!
A sincere tip of the hat to President Mark Emmert, Scott Woodward, Steve Sarkisian, Dan Evans, his fellow Regents, the members of the stadium committee, the administration, the faculty, the Tyee Club, and every single Husky fan out there for helping bring this dream closer to reality.
The University of Washington will have a college football stadium like no other!