SEATTLE (AP) — The finest piece of real estate in college football now has a facility worthy of its waterfront location. Husky Stadium is no longer crumbling and dilapidated. Rebar is no longer exposed, concrete is no longer cracked and seats don’t feel miles away from the field. In the span of 21 months, Washington went from having an outdated football stadium to a palatial estate on the shores of Lake Washington.
“We can compete with anyone now as far as facilities. I’m very comfortable saying that with this new happening in football and this new facility,” Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said on Wednesday. “This is as good as it gets. It’s efficient, it’s done well, it’s done classy. It’s done in a way that fits who we are as far as the University of Washington and the northwest with our sensibilities, but it’s also really top notch and that is what’s really impressive about this. I’m happy to put it up against anyone’s as far as doing it the right way in my opinion.”
Washington will christen its $280 million renovation on Saturday night when the Huskies face No. 19 Boise State. The Huskies have been using the facility for most of their fall camp and moved into their new locker rooms, weight rooms, training center and offices a couple of weeks ago. But the public has been kept behind chain-link fences with security guards standing watch to turn away anyone trying to slip inside for a sneak peak.
The grand unveiling comes on Saturday.
“The stadium is awesome. The stadium is great. The new Jumbotron and the lights and the wrapping and everything that is going to be with it,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said this week. “What is going to make the place specials is the way we play and the product that we put on the field and our guys understand that.” No one argued against the stadium needing a face-lift. The original lower seating bowl dated to 1920 and despite numerous cosmetic makeovers, was badly in need of repair when the project started in November 2011. Woodward and his staff went through many different scopes and funding mechanisms before deciding they could do the renovation themselves with the debt on the project paid back through stadium revenues.
Considering the scope of the project, Washington got a significant bang for its buck with a huge break on timing of taking bids on the project when the economy was down and construction prices low. “I feel incredible about it,” Woodward said, noting original estimates had the project in the $350 million range. “I wouldn’t want to go back on the street and price this thing today.”
The list of what’s brand new is massive. The entire lower bowl and the upper deck on the south side of the stadium was demolished and replaced. The track that surrounded the stadium and kept fans pushed back from the sideline was removed, the field was lowered by four feet and moved north seven feet. The entire west end — the closed end of the horseshoe shape — was brought closer to the field and that’s where Washington’s entire football operations are now housed. From coaches offices at the top, to new locker rooms, weight and therapy rooms and locker rooms underneath, the Huskies are now all encompassed in one location after being spread out across a number of buildings in the past. The school’s sports medicine clinic also relocated within the stadium and that addition will keep from having to send players across the street to the school’s medical center for evaluation of non-trauma injuries. There is also suites and club seating for the first time at Husky Stadium — 27 suites, 65 patio suites and 2,507 club seats. The stadium added permanent seats in the east end zone as well — which sit atop a bank of field level suites that was an added cost to the original project.
And stadium capacity will remain above 70,000 — although barely. It was a requirement of the project and came in at 70,138.
“We all had a target on 70. We didn’t want to go below that for image, reputation and revenue,” said Chip Lydum, Washington’s associated athletic director. “It was a challenge put the architects and we met it.”
Washington officials visited schools throughout the Pac-12, along with TCF Bank Stadium at Minnesota and Camp Randall Stadium at Wisconsin to glean ideas. They also visited University of Phoenix Stadium and MetLife Stadium at the professional level. Woodward feels like they found the right mix of modernization and keeping up with the rest of college football, while respecting the history of the school, program and stadium. The ultimate answer will come through the feedback of fans, recruits and future players.
“What I hope is that we hit the mark,” Woodward said. “That we kept it a traditional college football stadium on Montlake overlooking Lake Washington with the two cantilevered overhangs feeling good, but it’s a brand new modern facility that we can be proud of.”