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September 18, 2004

Renovate, Or Perish

FROM THE BRICKS AND MORTAR DEPARTMENT come more signs of a vibrant economy and a continuing arms race.

It’s rare that a school will lay out the huge money needed for a completely new stadium or arena. Better to spend $20 million, $50 million or even up to $200 million for phased retro-fits, renovations and upgrades.

Upgrades: pro

• Not many schools are capable of raising the hundreds of millions needed for state-of-the-art stadiums and arenas.

• Renovations and retro-fits allow construction payments to be floated over a longer period of time.

• Fans might oppose new facilities: many fans grow irrationally nostalgic over their old facilities; no matter how cramped or antiquated they may be.


Upgrades: con

• Renovations can be very inconvenient to fans and athletes alike.

• The gradual nature of the work takes away from the “wow” factor that would be had with new building construction.

• The final cost can run more than normal construction (multiple set-up and break-down costs).


Renovations in progress and being planned:

Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech. At $52.5 million, this is the most expensive capital project ever on the VT campus. Revenues from the 1000+ new luxury suites and club seats will be used to pay off the construction debt.

Comiskey Park, Chicago (now called US Cellular Field). Built in 1991, the new home of the White Sox was essentially dead on arrival in terms of having none of the neo-nostalgia charm of other “new / old” stadiums. So the team embarked on an ambitious five phase renovation plan, including a $28 million fourth phase that lopped off 6600 rarely used seats from the upper deck to improve aesthetics.

Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers. A $75 million renovation included new suites and widening of concourses.

Charles Koch Arena, Wichita State U. (formerly Levitt Arena). A new $21 million structure was built around the old “roundhouse” design, with a wider concourse, new rest rooms and concession stands.

And, of course, even the oldest of the old have withstood renovations, yet retained their charm.

For example, Boston’s Fenway Park added premium priced seats atop the Green Monster in left field, as well as a premium area in right field (underneath which is one of the largest men’s rooms in the western world, containing 200 urinals, 50 toilet stalls, 50 sinks and 15 gallons of liquid soap when fully stocked).

The common thread among all these initiatives is the ongoing effort to enhance the fan experience, and to substantially increase the per person expenditure for each event.

Build more, make more.

(this 431 word excerpt—with accompanying commentary--was distilled from a 3000 word article from the Sept. 2004 issue of Athletic Magazine and a 710 word article from the Roanoke Times of 9-10-04)