At 90-plus-years-old, time has come for a little polishing of Husky Stadium (insert joke here about the polishing needed for the football team itself). While the lights may have turned off this weekend after the University of Washington’s home loss to the University of Oregon, a new set of lights came on Monday morning: construction lights. An all-encompassing $250 million upgrade at Seattle’s iconic stadium on the shores of Lake Washington kicked off, giving construction crews just shy of two years to make radical changes to roughly two-thirds of the facility.
Led by Seattle developer Wright Runstad & Company, with 360 Architecture of Kansas City, Mo., for design, the Seattle office of New York-based Turner Construction for building and Seattle’s Magnusson Klemencic Associates for structural and civil needs, Husky Stadium’s renovations include the complete demolition and reconstruction of the lower horseshoe bowl and south side upper stands (the south side stands were built in 1950 and the north side upper stands were added in 1987). The track around the football field will get removed and the field lowered four feet, bringing the new lower bowl seating closer to the playing surface and improving sightlines.
As one of the loudest venues in all of college sports, officials say the new stadium won’t lose the ambiance, but add to it. With one of the widest gaps between seating—including the stadium’s original 30,000 seats that are still there—and the playing surface now, the changes will bring seats super close to the field, almost as close as any other stadium in the nation. Plus, with a new concourse, wider seats (not just splintered benches) and other upgrades, fans can enjoy the feeling of a modern stadium experience.
While officials wanted to eliminate some of the rough spots of the stadium, there were two elements they certainly couldn’t touch: the view of the water and the noise level. The views won’t change. And the noise could even increase. The two grandstand roofs covering the north and south sides are a rare sight in college sports. But Washington’s overhangs not only shelter fans from the Pacific Northwest rains, but serve to keep the noise inside the horseshoe. Sitting in the shaking press box during a critical moment of the game, as the fans roar louder, is an experience not easily forgotten. By moving the seats closer, but keeping the signature skyline piece of the large roof overhang at the exact same height as the old one, the noise shouldn’t get dampened.
With construction originally slated to start on Nov. 28, Washington officials decided to give crews as much time as possible to have the stadium done in time for the Sept. 7, 2013, home opener against Boise State. So, with two away games scheduled between the Oregon game and the annual Apple Cup against Washington State, the school moved construction up three weeks by simply shifting that final home game to Century Link Field, the home of the NFL’s Seahawks (also where UW will play its entire 2012 home schedule). In a similar move, the Seahawks played home games at Husky Stadium for two years during construction of Century Link Field following the demolition of the Kingdome.
As with nearly all stadium renovations, premium seating options—25 suites, 25 loge boxes and 2,500 club seats—will get added, but total seating won’t change much from the current capacity of 72,500. The funding model includes no public, state or university contributions. Instead, $50 million will be raised through major gift donations and $200 million through new revenues associated with the stadium. The university will use 30-year bonds to pay for the work.
Scott Woodward, Washington athletic director, says the decision to award Wright Runstad & Company the contract was based on a number of factors, including project cost, potential for future revenue generation and experience of the development team, with cost being the biggest factor.
Now the biggest factor, though, is time. While time has proven the Husky football program can turn things around (the Huskies are already bowl eligible now, for the second straight year after a winless 2008), construction crews have a limited time to turn around the aging Husky Stadium.
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