U. to conduct feasibility study in possible Rice-Eccles Stadium expansion

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah will conduct a feasibility study to review the possible expansion of the south end zone of Rice-Eccles Stadium, the university announced Monday morning.

The university has long discussed the idea of at least renovating the south end zone of the stadium in an effort to update the facility. The review, which will be the first step in a possible upgrade to the stadium, will look at the potential cost estimates and funding options available to the university should it embark on such a project.

“Understanding the market, costs and feasibility will help us better prepare for the future of the stadium,” University of Utah President David W. Pershing said in a statement. “There’s still much work to be done before taking steps toward renovation. We have to know if the market will support this kind of expansion.”

The south end zone remains the only unchanged part of the massive renovation of Rice-Eccles Stadium that opened in 1998. The south end zone is in need of repair as a result of the several maintenance issues that have taken place over the years, according to John Nixon, vice president of administrative services at the university.

“That’s a very old part of the stadium. We’re having maintenance issues in there: the plumbing and the concrete walls,” he said. “Every time we have a problem, it’s becoming very costly to maintain.”

Nixon said the feasibility study is in part out of necessity and in part to the high demand of ticket sales, including 38 consecutive sellouts since 2010, with 35 of those games needing to extend into the overflow standing room area sections.

Athletics director Chris Hill said in a statement: “We want our football team to be successful and our fans to have the best experience possible. This feasibility study will help us better understand how we continue to do all of that in the future.

The university said a possible expansion would include a “replacement of the locker rooms, equipment storage and media rooms, and space for medical services and hospitality opportunities.” The university added that an expansion could also include additional suites and concession areas. If feasible, Nixon said the university would like to connect the concourse to the south end zone like many stadiums around the country.

University of Utah debuts their new scoreboard and digital sound system at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Weston Kenney, Deseret News)
University of Utah debuts their new scoreboard and digital sound system at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Weston Kenney, Deseret News)

Regardless of the outcome of the feasibility study, Nixon said the university is going to have to make upgrades to the south end zone. However, the extent of the upgrades will be determined by what the market can sustain for the university.

“We’re going to have to do something. If we spring a leak in the pipes, we’re going to have to go in and cut the concrete out,” he said. “The pipes are starting to erode within the walls. It’s just a very old building, and we’re just going to have to do something from a maintenance and structural standpoint anyway.”

Expansion of the stadium has been a hot-button issue for several years as the athletics department has upgraded several of its facilities over the years to rival Pac-12 institutions, but has put off the idea of stadium expansion for cost alone. In February 2016, Utah athletics’ chief financial officer Steve Smith told the Deseret News that a stadium investment has got to “return a nice investment.”

In early studies of the project, Smith said the cost would be approximately $70 million and that the stadium would have to “sell out for years and years and years in order to get any sort of return on that.”

The university had conducted an expansion feasibility study in 2011; however, it was different from that of the upcoming study. In 2011, the study reviewed the various possibilities available to the university should it decide to go ahead with expansion. Nixon said the upcoming study is strictly based on whether the market could sustain stadium expansion.

“What this is going to do is really look more at the market,” he said. “We don’t want to overbuild the stadium. You just want to know that what you build, the market can bare: the fans will use and come and use and enjoy. What we need to do is make sure that we’ve got the capacity to do it within our fan base within our tickets.”

The University of California-Berkeley recently finished a renovation to its stadium, which cost approximately $321 million. As a result, Cal is expected to pay approximately $18 million until 2113, with costs increasing near the end of its contract. The university failed to pay its debt in its first year since the renovation and is already approximately $22 million in debt, with the looming costs of each year’s burden compounding on that debt.

Nixon said Cal is one such example of why Utah is looking to the upcoming feasibility study to see if the market can sustain a potential stadium expansion before undertaking a multimillion-dollar project.

“We don’t want to end up in a position like Cal. We have a very strong athletics program and have a great football team that’s competing well on the field. We obviously want to create a great environment for the team,” he said. “We want to make sure that we don’t get upside down like other institutions have, so that’s why we’re doing this study to determine what the market will bare without having any preconceived thoughts or ideas about what we want from an institution. We’re going to make sure that we have a thorough analysis done.”

Nixon said the university will likely have a finalized study by the end of the year, at which point the university will have a better idea of what course of action to take.

“Clearly we just want to make it the best experience we can for the fans in that stadium,” he said. “And we also want to give our team a great facility to play in.”

Earlier this month, the university approved a renovation to part of the HPER building for volleyball student-athletes, which will include new lockers, showers, restrooms and lounge area. The renovation will cost approximately $408,409 and will be funded by athletic funds.

In February, the university approved an expansion of the Kenneth & Sally Burbidge Athletic Academic Center, which will provide more space for student-athletes and “improve coordination between the student-athletes and administration” in relation to academic support. The project, which will cost an estimated $2 million, will be funded by the athletics operating funds.

Most recent Utah stories

Related topics

SportsUtahUtah Utes
Josh Furlong


    Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the KSL.com Trending 5.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast