ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s athletic board of directors on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for a $63 million project for the Sanford Stadium west end zone that will encompass 121,000 square feet.
It will give the football team a new home locker room nearly double its current size, recruiting space to host prospects and add concession stands and increase public restrooms to the area on the side that includes Sanford Drive and the Tate Center. The current team locker room is on the east side.
It’s one of the most significant changes to the 87-year old stadium, which had 5,500 new seats added to a second upper deck on the north side at a cost of $25 million in 2003.
“It’s the next step,” athletic director Greg McGarity said. “It’s one of the few areas where we can go because we’re land locked in every other direction.”
The project was detailed to the board in May 2016 when $1 million was approved for a design study.
The details revealed on Tuesday included that it will begin in April and take 17 months to complete. Construction will be going on during the 2017 season with a crane up during the fall, but won’t affect site lines. The project will be is expected to be completed for the 2018 season.
The athletic board approved a $10 million request that will come from athletic reserves. The other $53 million will come through fundraising over two or three years. The board approved using a line of credit during fiscal year 2018 to help pay for the project.
“This has been under discussion for a considerable amount of time,” UGA president Jere Morehead reminded the board at a quarterly meeting held in the Taylor Room at the basketball practice facility.
Morehead noted with the completion of the $30.1 indoor athletic facility – the building dedication that was held 15 minutes after the board meeting ended – nearly $100 million will have been used to “substantially upgrade our athletic facilities” that will largely benefit the football program.
“Really, it’s something we need to enhance our gameday experience for recruiting, but also make it better for our overall fan experience,” football coach Kirby Smart, entering his second season., said after the indoor facility dedication.”Then also for our players to have a locker room over there.”
The facility upgrades for football put Georgia in a “very competitive” situation in the Southeastern Conference, Morehead said.
Smart said the stadium is used on recruiting visits when hosting dinners.
The 10,575 square foot recruiting pavilion includes a recruiting room will accommodate up to 500 prospects. It will be directly above the new locker room.
“Where’s Mack?” McGarity said to Mack Guest, president of the UGA Football Letterman’s Club who was in the room. “We will no longer need to use your letterman’s lounge.”
Smart said the football program was “borrowing” the letterman’s lounge to host recruits.
“The biggest thing was just to have a recruiting venue at your site,” he said. “When kids come for a gameday experience, you’re able to have somewhere to take them.”
There will be 95 lockers, showers, restrooms, a coaching changing area and training and equipment rooms in the new locker room. The team currently uses a locker room on the east side that athletic McGarity described as “spartan.” It is used as a staging room for pregame, halftime and postgame activities.
McGarity said the recruiting area can be used by other groups at the university at certain times.
A plaza area in the west end zone will be built just like Reed Alley became Reed Plaza prior to the 2010 season. It will replace all existing entrances in the stadium’s west end.
Old restrooms and concession areas will be demolished on the west side of the stadium,.
The men’s restroom capacity will increase by five and the women’s restroom from 35 to 88. There will be temporary restrooms and concession stands during the six home games in 2017 season.
The Gate 10 area will be pushed out to Tate Center but the bridge won’t be impacted. The team will now enter the stadium on the west side.
“We’re not affecting the bridge itself,” McGarity said.
The video scoreboard will move back and become larger—increasing from 75 by 46 to 100 by 52—with the newest technology in its first upgrade since 2011.
The project will mean an increase of 14 seats and more handicapped seating.
“I’m fired up about that west end zone,” said tight end and student board member Jeb Blazevich, who only has one season of eligibility remaining.
Pledges from the some 475 members of Georgia’s Magill Society have exceeded $36 million, McGarity told the board. That largely was used to pay for the indoor facility.
Morehead said Georgia, which had $67 million in reserves at the end of the fiscal year 2016, is one of the most financially sound athletic programs in the nation and cautioned that he will be hesitant to support more facility projects anytime soon.
“We are going to be extremely careful moving forward while we are in this fundraising initiatives until the pledges and payments are coming in,” he said.
He asked the athletic board to “help us stay focused on the donor prospects and energy and excitement to raise the funds to make this success.
“I have news for you in the next few years, there will be something else with respect to football or one of our other athletic programs,” he said. “I am absolutely committed for our athletic director and our head football coach as they make the case for this project (in fundraising).”
McGarity said Georgia has just “scratched the surface” in fund raising.
“We have 16,000 season ticket holders,” McGarity said. “There’s naming facilities (in the indoo facility) as well as in these new areas. I think there’s tremendous upside for maybe a once in a lifetime chance for naming opportunities that are going to be available in Sanford Stadium.”