University of Arizona to spend $66M to renovate football stadium, add facilities

17 November 2017

The University of Arizona got the go-ahead Thursday to spend $66 million to renovate the football stadium, build an indoor practice facility and improve the aquatic center.

The university has fallen behind its peers in the Pac-12 Conference and nationally when it comes to the overall condition of athletic facilities, UA Athletic Director Dave Heeke told members of the Arizona Board of Regents at a recent meeting.

Arizona Stadium, built in 1928 with various improvements over the years, is a "gem," he said, that still needs quite a bit of investment.

A mandatory student athletic fee will fund the majority of improvements over next two years.

Of the total, $25 million is earmarked to renovate portions of the stadium. Improvements will focus on the east side and include renovations to the student seating section and adding more restrooms and concessions.

Construction will take place in the off season, with everything completed by August 2019. The last major improvements to the stadium were in 2013, when the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility with club seating, restrooms and concessions opened on the north end zone.

Some of the athletic facilities slated for improvement are in "pretty dire shape," said Lorenzo Martinez, the regents associate vice president for finance and administration.

Among the other improvements planned:

  •     $18 million for an indoor sports center for football practices and other sports. The 45,000-square-foot building will also serve as a game day venue for fans, with food, vendors and music. Construction is expected to start in the spring and finish in winter 2019.
  •     $15 million at Hillenbrand Aquatic Center to replace a pool that is "slowly sinking into the desert, literally," Martinez said. The new pool will be larger. Construction is expected to begin in 2018 in the off season and be completed by January 2019.
  •     $18 million for improvements at Hillenbrand Softball Facility, including shading spectator areas and new amenities such as suites. The press box will be renovated and expanded, and the dugouts upgraded. Officials expect to begin construction in the spring with completion in winter 2019.

The regents on Thursday voted unanimously in favor of the projects, which gives university officials the green light to begin construction. Regent Rick Myers called athletics a critical part of the institution and "it's what makes for a multifaceted, great university," he said.
Student fees help foot the bill

Mandatory fees to fund athletics have been controversial in Arizona, ever since Arizona State University began using such a fee to help fund operations in 2014. ASU students pay $150 a year.

UA undergraduate students pay $100 a year while graduate students pay $50.

Some students object to paying athletic fees, saying they are too busy to attend games or don't have an interest in athletics.

University officials have countered that most schools end up subsidizing their athletic programs anyway, and charging fees is a way to ensure the programs have one more dedicated source of money, along with revenue from ticket sales, television rights and athletic-apparel sponsorships.

Northern Arizona University is the only one of the three state universities that does not charge an athletic fee.

Heeke said other needs at UA will have to be addressed, including improving facilities for the soccer and track-and-field programs, which are off campus.

"There's a lot there, and it will keep us busy for a few years," he said.

He said officials plan a fundraising campaign in addition to using money from the athletic fee.