In 2016, a market study for the University of Wisconsin athletic department told of a demand for premium seating for football games beyond what was available at Camp Randall Stadium.
Armed with that information and a waiting list for the facility’s 920 existing club seats, UW officials have moved toward a remodeling of the stadium’s seating area between the south end zone and the Field House.
There, they plan to add indoor club spaces with bars and food service; small loge boxes that offer semi-private seating areas and amenities; and rows of chairback seating that contrast with the metal bleachers available elsewhere in the stadium.
It’s a change that will cater to fans who are willing to pay more to get more. The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a new complexity, however: Will the interest predicted four years ago still be there during an economic downturn?
That’s another layer of uncertainty in a thick pile of issues for UW. Amid questions about how the coronavirus will affect the 2020 football season and the rest of college sports, senior associate athletic director for capital projects Jason King said UW isn’t changing course until it has a clearer picture.
“We’re continually evaluating everything that we’re doing,” he said. “And when we have appropriate information, we’ll make decisions on those things.”
Madison’s Joint Campus Area Committee on Wednesday voted to advance the project to the Plan Commission after a presentation by Ron Gans of design firm HOK.
He highlighted the transformation of what’s now 60 rows of bench seating into three levels, each with a hospitality space nearby.
One indoor club is planned to be at field level, another above rows of club seats. Near both, loge boxes offer room for between four and eight spectators.
The new areas are part of a project that was approved in the 2019-21 state budget with a $77 million price tag. That cost included updates to the press box, the installation of new field turf for the stadium and adjacent McClain Center and other infrastructure upgrades.
Program revenue bonds, gift dollars and athletic department reserves will pay for the construction.
Remodeling of the area between the south end zone and the Field House was the least costly of four potential options presented for Camp Randall in UW’s 2017 athletic facilities master plan. The other three involved replacing parts or all of the seating on the west side of the stadium.
The project has since evolved through different renderings included as part of UW announcements and city committee meetings. One major difference in plans presented Wednesday is a scaling back of seating in the top of three levels.
Renderings from a December meeting showed 19 rows of seats on the upper terrace level between the Field House and the west grandstand. Current plans show that area with five or six rows to eliminate a large increase in height.
An element that has re-emerged for consideration is extending the club space into the Field House. That possibility was included in the master plan but later was rejected for cost reasons.
The Field House portion of the club area could serve Badgers volleyball and wrestling matches as well as football games.
“The good thing is we’ve come up with a design that we think would work well,” King said. “Whether we choose to move forward with that design in the short term or whether we wait a few years to incorporate something like that, at least we’ve done our homework and we’ve come up with a plan.”
The indoor club space at Camp Randall holds intriguing possibilities for UW in expanding usage of the stadium beyond game days and other major events. The master plan listed corporate functions, weddings and social parties as options.
“They’re going to be really flexible spaces that we can use for a bunch of different things,” King said.
Construction is set to happen in a tight window, mostly between the Nov. 21 end of the 2020 Badgers football home season and the Sept. 4 first home game of the 2021 schedule.
King said he didn’t want to speculate on how the timeline would be impacted if the COVID-19 pandemic forced the football season to be pushed back.
Other work underway
A UW-Madison project status report included in materials for the Joint Campus Area Committee meeting also updated the timing for work on two other athletic department facilities and offered a hint toward another project in the works.
Demolition work is in progress for an exterior renovation to the Field House and the construction of a new plaza outside the south entrance. The project includes replacement of doors and windows, but the windows may be delayed because the coronavirus forced a temporarily closure of the manufacturing plant.
Construction of a $42 million addition to the Kohl Center that will focus on space for athlete services and new team offices is scheduled to begin in February and run until March 2023. The project was approved by the Madison Plan Commission on April 13.
Planning for the future of the Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center is underway for the 2023-25 budget cycle. The athletic department will take control of the building, also known as the Shell, after a $5 million purchase from the UW Recreation and Wellbeing.
That transaction has been timed to take place after a series of dominoes fall in replacing recreational sports facilities on campus. After delays, the Nicholas Recreation Center near the Kohl Center on Dayton Street is projected to open in October. A replacement for the Gymnasium/Natatorium building on Observatory Drive on the west side of campus is scheduled to be constructed in 2021 and 2022.
The UW track and field teams use the Shell’s 200-meter indoor track, but the facility also has basketball courts, fitness equipment and an ice rink. The athletic department hasn’t publicly disclosed plans for the space after the purchase is finalized.
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