The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees voted Friday to authorize a budget increase for Phase I renovations to Neyland Stadium and to expand the scope of Phase I under a revised Neyland Stadium Master Plan. The board also recognized the revised Neyland Stadium Master Plan as a single and unified project, officially outlining a path to preserve the historic facility for a second century of service to the university, community and state.
In October of 2016, the Board of Trustees approved an initial phase (Phase I), of a three-phase renovation plan, in the amount of $106 million.
The new, revised master plan, recognized on Friday and pending all required state government approvals, accelerates the pace of the renovations by spreading the overall project scope across two phases resulting in an increased Phase I budget of $180 million. The shifting of project scope to an earlier timeframe avoids significant escalation costs and reduces long-term borrowing costs (by taking advantage of the currently low interest rate environment).
"We're excited about the long-term impact of this undertaking on future generations of Tennessee fans," said John Currie, the school’s athletic director. "Our aim is to prepare Neyland Stadium—one of the most iconic venues in all of sport—for a second century of service, and I believe we have a plan in place to accomplish that endeavor in the most fiscally-responsible manner possible."
During his presentation to the Board of Trustees on Thursday, Currie outlined five main project goals:
» Enhance the Neyland Stadium gameday fan experience with modernized restrooms, improved concessions offerings, quality and availability as well as expanded and upgraded concourses
» Improve safety, security and access, including ingress and egress flow
» Elevate the visual presentation of Neyland Stadium to reflect architectural standards of the university's Master Plan
» Prepare Neyland Stadium for another century of service to future generations of Tennessee fans
» Proceed in a fiscally-responsible manner, delivering value and benefit to the university community.
Currie also acknowledged the unique importance of maintaining a six-figure stadium capacity, as that is a point of pride for Tennessee fans. It is the university's intention to preserve a stadium capacity in excess of 100,000.
The estimated total project budget, in future dollars, stands at $340 million. During his presentation to the board Thursday, Currie outlined a five-source funding model for Phase I that does not require any state dollars or subsidies. The updated plan calls for more work to be completed sooner, while costs are lower; this adjustment also enables the project to benefit from the current low-interest-rate environment.
Phase I renovations ($180 million) are expected to be complete prior to the 2020 football season, while Phase II renovations ($160 million) are targeted to conclude as early as opening kickoff of the 2021 campaign—at which point Neyland Stadium will have served as the home of Tennessee football for 100 full years.
While Friday's Board of Trustees action recognized the total project budget of $340 million, a request for authorization to proceed with Phase II will be presented for approval at a subsequent board meeting pending a detailed description of the scope, funding model and timeline for Phase II. Friday's vote, however, does allow for the revised master plan renovations to proceed as a single and unified project with one architect and construction manager team for both phases.
Specific highlights of the revised master plan renovations include expanding the entire concourses on the south and east sides of the stadium, increasing the current 0.5 square feet of space per patron to an average of three square feet per patron, and adding new table space and family areas within the concourse footprint.
The south end—or highly trafficked "riverfront view"—of Neyland Stadium, will be aesthetically transformed to provide a magnificent first impression of the venue that is befitting of its storied history and prominence. The extremely noticeable transformation will mirror the impactful work that was previously completed at and around the Gate 21 area several years ago.
Originally constructed in 1921 with a seating capacity of 3,200 (then known as Shields-Watkins Field), Neyland Stadium has undergone 19 expansions and/or renovations. Most recently, Neyland Stadium underwent a nearly $140 million, three-phase renovation initiated after the 2005 football season and concluded prior to the start of the 2010 campaign. During his previous tenure at UT, Currie played an influential role in planning and fundraising for that project.
Neyland Stadium is currently the fifth-largest football stadium in the United States (stadium capacity of 102,455) and remains a vital economic driver for East Tennessee while serving as home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers football program. The Vols are the ninth-winningest program in college football history with a record of 832-380-53. Tennessee has won six national championships and 13 SEC Championships.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)