There was a time when bigger was better. The biggest was considered the best. But UT President Gregory L. Fenves is ready to call a truce in the facilities arms race.
Fenves told the UT System Board of Regents on Thursday that the new south end zone expansion of Royal-Memorial Stadium will not increase the stadium seating capacity of 100,119.
Regents gave the financial go-ahead for UT to start its ambitious $175 million project. Athletic director Chris Del Conte said he’s already raised $80 million from private donations. The new project will make the seating bowl complete, add an end-zone stadium club suite and totally revamp the entire football building.
“How many seats does Kyle Stadium have?” Regent Jeff Hildebrand asked, referring to Texas A&M’s football stadium, Kyle Field.
The Aggies’ home field seats 102,733 after a dramatic renovation fueled by the team’s move to the Southeastern Conference. Someone in the room shouted out 105,000. “What’s it take to get another four thousand (seats)?” one UT regent asked.
“We can certainly look at that,” Fenves told the regents. “We’ve talked extensively about this. We believe we have enough seats in the stadium for our program.”
To which Chairwoman Sara Martinez Tucker said, “It’s quality, not quantity.”
In reality, Texas officials have no specific goal of one-upping their A&M counterparts. UT’s project will complete a long-term vision once set forth by then-UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds.
This new project is more in line with today’s stadium enhancements, multiple UT officials said. The Longhorns will have a stadium club that stretches the entire length of the south end zone, similar to the field-level club the Dallas Cowboys have at AT&T Stadium. “I think it’s a fantastic concept,” Fenves said.
Eight luxury suites will be stacked on both sides of a new jumbo video board, one that will be bigger than the current “Godzillatron” at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Essentially, Texas officials are creating new, lucrative revenue streams rather than just adding more bleachers.
“The economics of it is what’s interesting,” Regent Steve Hicks said. “The luxury stuff is what’s paying for the stuff that the players get to use. It’s going to be awesome.”
For months, Del Conte has stressed the importance of renovating the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center. Fenves was straight to the point with regents about the building’s condition. “That was more than 20 years ago and four head coaches ago,” Fenves said. “Our current football facilities are inadequate for our student-athletes.”
Texas coach Tom Herman said he “can’t thank President Fenves and Chris Del Conte enough” for recognizing the importance of good football facilities.
With this renovation, UT coaches will have offices with window views of the field. The medical and training rooms will get complete overhauls and technology to match those $8,700 headline-grabbing lockers that were installed last year.
Asked about his favorite new feature, Herman said: “Just the amenities for our players. Everything from cryo chambers in the training room, nap rooms, recovery rooms, hydrotherapy pools that are as good as anywhere in the country.”
Del Conte said this project will create a standard for others to follow.
“As everyone’s building new facilities across the board, we need to do what’s right for the University of Texas,” he said. “I’m really not concerned what anyone else is doing around the country. I’m more concerned about what we need for the University of Texas and for our student-athletes, fans and donors. So this project is critical.”
The regents meeting and stadium approval came one day after UT announced a $1 million gift for the creation of an indoor baseball practice facility. Del Conte said the school will start construction of a new Hall of Honor in the north end zone lobby at Royal-Memorial Stadium in January.
The school is also in deep discussions about a new basketball arena that will replace the Erwin Center in the coming years.
“What’s great is that people are energized within our athletic program,” Del Conte said.
The upgrading of UT athletic facilities is just beginning, it seems.
“Getting fans there and having a great game-day experience,” Fenves said, “that’s what our goal is.”
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