New stadium plans will benefit athletes first

ARDMORE -- Now that the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents approved the plan to make $370 million renovations to Memorial Stadium the onus will be put on the athletic department to raise nearly $150 million of that money on its own.
University President David Boren made clear all the money used to create a new environment at Owen Field will come entirely from donors, the athletic department and revenue bonds.
"Nothing from state appropriations," Boren said. "Nothing from the taxpayers; nothing from the tuition payers, the students or their families. This is an athletics department project."
And the bonds aren't exactly a slam dunk. Boren called the phases a "pay-as-you-go approach."
"We won't vote bonds until we have the private upfront capital gifts that we know would sustain the bonds with all of the ticket revenue and the other things that will sustain the bonds," he said.
None of the proposed upgrades were made without thought. Months of planning went into design. OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said those working on the plan pulled from existing pro and college stadiums to come up with the plan approved by the regents on Wednesday.
"Obviously in the professional space, there have been many more new stadiums, the latest and greatest of everything that people can conceptualize," he said. "But there also have been stadiums like ours, which are historic, which have been transformed.
"All the best ones out there, we went and saw, or we had somebody provide us that information."
Construction on the south end zone is likely to begin following the 2015 season.
The first phase of construction includes circling in the corners to give the stadium a bowl-like feel and building the new facilities that directly affect the student-athletes and coaches like a new weight room, meeting rooms and offices.
While juggling the need to raise the money to add the impressive amenities outlined in the master plan, Castiglione will have to deal with knowing the upgrades won't make every OU fan jump for joy.
The upgrades mean new seating arrangements will be made in some parts of the stadium and some seating will be done away with altogether, though there are no plans to increase stadium capacity substantially. Seats will probably be removed from higher sections on the south side and seating will be affected in the west upper deck.
"There are fans who have sat in the same seat for a long time, people who have sat around the same group of people for 20 years," Castiglione said. "There will be an answer for everybody but there won't be a perfect solution for everybody."
All bench seating will be 18 inches wide. Some are as narrow as 14 inches today.
Castiglione and Boren claimed there won't be an exorbitant hike in ticket prices for folks who want to keep their seats.
"We have tried to keep the increase in ticket prices fair, nominal, maybe following the cost of living type increase if you will," Castiglione said. "Where we can keep them in that same sort of rhythm, we're going to do that. There are also higher-level amenities that people can select voluntarily if that's what they want."
They might want to do just that because suite-level seating will continue to be the only place in the stadium where alcohol is served for the foreseeable future. Castiglione reiterated OU has no plans to sell beer at its concession stands.
"We do offer it in a very limited way in some of the premium areas, but we don't have any anticipation of changing that approach," Castiglione said.