UT CAMPUS - Some major changes are coming to Neyland Stadium, and for the first time we are getting a look at the University of Tennessee’s plans to renovate and modernize the historic stadium on the Knoxville campus.
The university spent nine months working with design firm Populous on the plan, which can be seen here. There will be three phases of improvements, focusing on safety concerns and the overall experience expected at a historic institution like Neyland Stadium.
The Board of Trustees has already approved the initial $106 million first phase of the project, funded by donor gifts and athletic department revenue.
"The groundwork has been laid for proceeding with a much anticipated investment in Neyland Stadium," said Dave Hart, Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics. "The study encompasses all the essential elements to ensure that Neyland Stadium remains a preeminent college football destination and experience for current fans and future generations alike."
The work will start at field level then work its way up to the concourse areas. Two elements of the plan that will be very welcome news to fans are enlarged restrooms and concession stands in many areas, but that’s really just the beginning of the project that will transform and modernize the stadium.
The project will complete the work started in another three-stage renovation in the 2000’s that upgraded part of the stadium concourse and entrance areas.
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Right now, Neyland is the fifth largest stadium in the country, with seats for 102,455 fans. When the work is complete, the stadium will still have a seating capacity in excess of 100,000, though the exact numbers have not been revealed.
The university calls phase one “high-priority items” like safety, functionality, and fan comfort. It will include replacing narrow, dimly-lit corridors and adding restrooms and concession stands. They will make sure that all upper-level aisles have hand rails.
There will be major changes to lower level seating in the west and south parts of the stadium. The seating areas in the west lower bowl date back to 1921, are deteriorating, and must be replaced.
Rebuilding that area will allow for some major fan upgrades, like chairback seating in sections U and T with in-seat food and drink service.
They will also add two new club-level game day experiences for fans--- a South Field membership club and a West Field club, both also available for private functions.
The South Field membership club will be located at field level and will be an enclosed, private area. It will have its own outside entry, premium food and beverages, private restrooms, and a capacity of 1,350 members. Membership would not include a seat to watch the game, but d drawings show wide-open spaces with views of the field with scattered seating areas.
The West Field club would connect to the South Field club, and have many of the same amenities. It will include the option for lounge-style suites.
Phase one will also address player safety by moving the south end zone farther back from the field, allowing more room for players. The move will eliminate existing rows in sections J through N.
They will also relocate the visitors’ locker room, add a kitchen/commissary to the stadium, begin work to improve WiFi in the stadium, and make needed improvements to utility and sewer services.
Phase one is targeted for completion in August 2019. There are no dates listed at this time for work or cost on phase two or three of the stadium project.
The next phase of the renovation project will continue adding to the fan experience, but it will also provide premium spaces for recruits and game day support staff like cheerleaders and band members.
The university will improve the entrances on the south side of the stadium to compare to those on the north side, with easier access to parking garages, wider passageways, and better security. These improved entrances will relieve overcrowding at other entry areas, and provide more handicap access. They will also be more consistent in architecture and experience with the already renovated entry areas.
The fan concourse renovation will expand to the rest of the stadium with improved facilities for fans.The plan will add 15 additional open-air suites on the southwest side that will be closer to the action than existing premium options in the upper deck. Improvements will also be made to the seating areas at the top of the lower bowl, replacing folding chairs on plywood boxes with more comfortable ledge seating.
Workers will also remove screens and other barriers that prevent fans in the concourse from seeing the field. In addition, dedicated standing room only areas will be added. The new concourse will also include patios with views of the Tennessee River in some areas.
The plans call for a recruiting room “with no peer” that will help coaches entice the best players in the country to come to Tennessee. It will include patio-access to the field and their seats and easy access to view the Vol Walk.
A Halftime Meeting Room is planned to take advantage of a pending NCAA rule change that will allow for players to watch game video during halftime. The room will “optimize current technology to “provide UT coaches a dramatic advantage over their opponents.”
The biggest new elements for fans added in the third phase of construction will be two new video boards, on the north and south sides of the field, which will be visible from all seating areas, and improved WiFi access.
All of the concourse improvements will be completed, highlighted by better views of campus and the river.
They will complete the improvements to all stadium entry gates and plazas, giving them a consistent appearance around the stadium.
Again, no timeline or projected costs have been released yet beyond phase one of the renovation project, but the university contends the work is worth the cost, and will be worth the wait.
"When people think about Tennessee football, they think about Neyland Stadium. The tangible care and attention given towards this Knoxville landmark is critical in maintaining a special environment and the significant impact that Neyland Stadium has on our football program, University and entire Volunteer community," said Hart.
(© 2016 WBIR)