Mississippi State gave the public an updated look at this project Wednesday morning. Final plans are for a 61,337 seat official capacity. That brings a net-increase of 6,255 over the current 55,082 seats, though 8,815 of these will be brand-new seats. Some of the existing bleacher seating will be lost to make room for new premium seats and facilities in the north end zone.
“As charter members of the most prestigious athletic conference in the nation, this expansion will allow us to be even more competitive, and to compete for championships,” University president Dr. Mark Keenum said.
This expansion/renovation, discussed for years among Bulldog administrators and fans, was announced in fall 2011 by athletic director Scott Stricklin. At the time he forecast a year’s cycle of fundraising, including bonds, as well as the stages for planning and approval. This August presentation of the specific numbers came right on schedule, just as Mississippi State intends for August 2014.
“Here’s the exciting part,” said Stricklin. “It is going to be ready in time for the 100th anniversary of Scott Field.” Speaking of century numbers, the stadium project complements the ongoing construction of the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex which is scheduled for completion in January. “As I like to say, when Coach Mullen and his team come back from that third-straight bowl game we’ll hand then the key to the new offices,” Stricklin said.
“With these two projects Mississippi State athletics will have committed $100 million to its football facilities, which I think speaks to having that foundation which leads to future success.”
Stadium expansion has become a reality, even a necessity, founded upon the recent success of Coach Dan Mullen’s program. And, the unprecedented demand by Bulldog fans for season tickets; not merely game tickets as in the past but full-season ducats. Mississippi State has exhausted its supply of season-long tickets and those seats for the last few years and now has a waiting list for more which the current stadium cannot satisfy. There is also a list of applicants for suites the athletic department wants badly to fill and secure those long-term lease revenues.
Renovation could consume as much of the cost as addition. The latest round of renderings show lots of brick and glass that give even the antique areas of this stadium a most modern look, while staying with the University’s general design themes for any new or renovated buildings. Stricklin proudly noted such fundamental aspects of the gameday experience as increases in concession stands from 110 now to 156 projected; or an almost literal doubling of restrooms from 313 to 321.
Stricklin related the three goals set when serious work on expansion/renovation began two years ago. “We wanted to add more seating, both general and premium. We wanted to improve the amenities for our fans. Then the third piece is improve the aesthetics of our stadium.”
Still what everyone wants to know in an expansion is other numbers, and what they represent. Broken down, the grandstands gain 7,076 seats net; of which 1,739 are ‘premium’ seats. That includes 1,155 for the ‘Scoreboard Club’ area. 22 new suites are being built in the north end zone, and these are either 12 or 18 fan capacity compared to the 24-person boxes built in 1999 on the east grandstand.
Stricklin is particularly proud of an addition borrowed from some professional venues. He discussed field-level ‘suites’ a year ago in the initial proposal and they will indeed be part of the project allowing fans to literally be at ground level watching from around the north end zone…before and even during the game if they wish. A 236-seat Loge area is being added also, which Stricklin has studied at the stadia of North Carolian, Oregon State, and Minnesota. “They’ve found it to be incredibly popular,” Stricklin said.
In all there will be four new and distinct premium areas, providing the sort of revenue athletic departments increasingly count on rather than risking general seating additions. And wherever someone sits in the expanded stadium, everyone will have a good view of the scoreboard. Either scoreboard. Just four years after Mississippi State turned on what was at the time the nation’s best and biggest video-and-scoreboard in the south end, there will be a matching one in the north end.
And of great interest to fans who increasingly want to enter as near to kickoff as possible, there will be a total of 12 elevators instead of the current five. Of course only one of those five is on the west side, built in 1985 and able to—slowly—handle just a handful of folk on any trip. It won’t help sales but building a permanent compound for TV broadcast trucks with underground cable connections to the stadium will make moving around the west grandstand underside much easier for everyone.
Mississippi State secured permission from the IHL to borrow up to $82 million for the project. But after the bidding process, the University came away with a better deal than expected. Only $68 million will have to be borrowed now, on 30-year bonds (the 1999 expansion, completed in 2001, still has a decade left to pay off). And State has already received $7 million in private giving towards this project, easing the burden that much more. These contributions will be part of the Bulldog Club’s Today.Tomorrow.Forever Athletics Facilities Initiative, which is independent of annual giving and priority seating donations.
“$75 million may sound like a lot of money to add only 6,000 seats,” Stricklin said. “But there is so much more than seats to this facility, to what is going to be in there.” Besides this, the approved plan allows for future expansions, specifically adding a north end upper deck, and another 22 suites if the demand continues.
The construction will be overseen by winning bidder Harrell Contracting Group of Jackson. LPK of Meridian, Miss., did designs for the project, along with 360 Architecture of Kansas City, Mo.
Stricklin stressed that while the project begins “immediately” there will be no impact on current seating for the 2012 seasons. And his plan is that even with work ongoing through the 2013 season there hopefully are no seats lost then either.
Concurrent with expansion will be a re-seating of ticket holders in spring of 2014. “It’s a fair and equitable way and with the new seatong options there are plenty of options for people," Stricklin said. He plans to 'freeze' the rates for seatholders in March 2014.
Davis Wade Stadium, renamed for the lead donor to the 1999 expansion, contains the second-oldest campus field in major college football. What was originally called the New Athletic field in 1914 saw its first permanent seating in 1928. Since then there have been five significant additions to capacity, with one minor deletion in 1983 when wooden bleachers in the north end zone were removed along with the old cinder track that circled the playing field.
“It’s a pretty exciting day and says a lot about where we’ve been, and where we’re going,” Stricklin said. “Consecutive winning seasons, bowl wins, attendance records, all those things have put us in position to have a foundation that is going to lead to even more success and consistency and eventually championships. Facilities are another factor in building that foundation.”
A foundation a full century in the making.