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June 29, 2014

OU plans $370 million upgrade to Owen Field

ARDMORE — The capacity won’t change much, but Owen Field will experience a major remodeling by the 2016 season opener.

A major renovation plan, OU’s most substantial makeover since building the east side upper deck and luxury suites prior to the 2003 season, was approved by the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents on Wednesday. The project comes with a $370 million price tag to be paid with athletic department revenue, bonds and donations.

“At the time we launched this comprehensive study of our stadium and student-athlete facilities, we really did take sort of a two-part, or a twin goal: One, to create a world-class student-athlete experience as well as an unforgettable experience for the fans who support our program,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “I absolutely believe that we met, if not exceeded those two goals in this particular phase.”

For fans, the biggest cosmetic changes will be in the south end zone and west side.

The south-end-zone structure will bowl in the stadium for the first time. Owen Field, which opened in 1923, was built with original east and west sides. It was turned into a horseshoe by bowling in the north end zone in 1949. The south end zone structure has been unconnected to the rest of the stadium since it was erected in 1980.

The west-side  renovation calls for two upper decks along with club seating, luxury suites and a new press box. It will begin with the south end zone because those also call for massive improvements to the Switzer Center, which is connected.

 “The major improvements that affect student-athletes are right there,” OU president David Boren said. “There are weight training, physical training, flexibility training, nutrition, meeting rooms and other things, plus also bringing our athletic administration offices down to the south end zone will be close to the football operations and our student-athletes.”

The football program will see the size of its weight room and training facility nearly quadruple along with new coaches’ office and meeting rooms.

All told, the Switzer Center will grow by 50,000 square feet.

“This will be a great impact on our current players and their ability for us to continue to develop them, in meetings and training and lifting, running all of that type of thing, but also in recruiting, to be able to walk into an incredible, first-class facility that meets every one of their needs as a recruit, and then to walk in the stadium and have that impact of the stadium tower along with the whole south end zone bowled in is gonna be special,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “I think the crowd noise factor is gonna be louder, so it’s gonna impact recruits even during games, as well.”

Also, OU’s athletic department offices will move from the north to the south side of Owen Field, with a new entrance being created on the south side of the stadium. The south end zone structure will be topped by an 8,750-square foot video board.

Castiglione said the facelift will not greatly increase the venue’s capacity. It currently holds 82,112, but has seated crowds of over 86,000 in the past.

“We really do understand the demand, the size of our population in the state, and the fact that our ticket is a very hard one to get. That’s proven by our continued sellout streak that was established when Coach Stoops coached his first game in the fall of 1999 and continues today,” he said. “We set out to make it a better experience for our fans, and we certainly have done that when you look at everything that was presented, whether it is the services, the concessions, embracing of the technology; it’s a way that fans want to experience the game.”

The changes will include 43 new restroom locations, and 69 additional concession points of sale will be constructed. There are 16 new escalators and 18 new elevators planned, too.

Boren said the goal is to raise at least $150 million before any construction begins. Wednesday’s announcement served as the public kickoff for the fundraising. Privately, OU has been doing it for months.

Neither Boren nor Castiglione believe the price tag will be an issue.

One of the ways it will raise money is with more seating options. The renovations to the south end zone and west side will add lots of club seats and luxury seats. Of course, the upgraded seats will come at a much heftier price to fans.

The price for the average bench seat in the stadium is expected to rise as well. Boren said the percentage the average seat goes up will be minimal.

“If you want to stay with the bench seating and so on, modification of the ticket prices will be minimal,” he said. “But let’s say you want to upgrade from that to a chair-back seat near a club with access to it or something else, obviously they’ll be different prices for different kinds of seating. But it will not be something that forces people into those changes.”

The Sooners, who went 12-2 and won the Sugar Bowl last season, are over two months away from the 2014 season opener. Stoops believes the plans for Owen Field and the Switzer Center will rival any facility in college football.

“This continues to show the vision that they (Boren and Castiglione) have, to continue to push our program forward and to make this stadium as good as any you’ll walk into in the country, and improve the amenities for all the fans, but most important to me, to improve the environment all our athletes, in particular my players on the football team, the environment that they’ll work in and the facilities they’ll work in on a daily basis with my coaches,” he said.

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