AMES, Ia. – The Iowa Board of Regents on Wednesday approved plans for $135 million to $150 million of upgrades at the University of Iowa that at its center would significantly improve amenities for the UI’s student-athletes and ticket-buying football fans.
Project planning was green-lit for improvements to Kinnick Stadium’s North end zone that is likely to include more premium seating; construction of a suite-style residence hall on the doorstep of sports facilities; and construction of a new indoor track-and-field building west of Finkbine Golf Course.
The three are strategically connected at the hip, with the current indoor track in the Rec Building (located next door to Kinnick Stadium and the sprawling new Football Operations Center) occupying prime real estate that, according to notes provided to the Board of Regents, “is on a site being considered for” the proposed $85 million residence hall.
Wednesday’s authorization allows Iowa athletic director Gary Barta to consult with architects to map out execution of the first phase of a 10-year master plan unveiled last week to make improvements across all 24 university sports.
The headliner, though, is the athletic department’s biggest money machine: football.
Barta envisions creating more elbow room in the currently cramped North end zone, a project estimated at $35 million to $45 million to improve restrooms, concourses, concession and revenue-generating premium seats in a section of Kinnick that’s been virtually untouched since 1983.
In an interview with The Des Moines Register, Barta didn’t discount the possibility of building “up” end-zone seating with an eye on keeping capacity near the current 70,585. He also could see enclosed suites wrapping from the 2005-renovated press box to the North end zone.
The what-can-be-done-for-$45-million phase begins now.
“It’s a tight footprint, so that’s why we need to bring in experts who do this for a living to look at the structure and how much room we have,” said Barta, who has had project meetings in the lead-up to Wednesday with anticipation of Regents approval. “I think it’s still possible to keep it at 70,000 or higher. That’s the goal. But I’m not going to make that goal supercede having a great fan experience.
“I’m going to challenge the architects to get us the improvements we need and get it to 70. I have no idea what it’ll look like. But yes, I’m open to whatever they come to us with that works.”
Barta did not reveal a time frame on completion of the project other than saying, “We want to get going as fast as we can.”
The proposed dorm (which would house 500 to 600 beds, according to the UI's proposal) is on the fast track, too, with a high benefit for athletes, from first-year to graduate students. The dorm would include high-demand, suite style rooms – pods of four individual bedrooms surrounding a social space and kitchenette. This facility is anticipated to cost $32 million more than the UI’s recently completed 501-bed, $53 million Mary Louise Petersen Residence Hall of similar size.
That cost difference is chalked up to the larger room sizes and the greater dining needs of an athletic training table.
Regents President Bruce Rastetter pointed out that “while the cost per room may be higher, the revenue may also be higher” compared with traditional two-beds-per-room setups. Of course, room costs are 100 percent covered by the athletic department for student-athletes on full scholarship.
“The dorm is a student dormitory that will happen to house student-athletes,” Rastetter said.
NCAA rules mandate that at least 51 percent of every residence-hall floor be occupied by non-athletes. However, the new residence hall’s proposed location would offer by far the most convenient student housing for athletes – virtually a walk across the street to the football training facility, Duane Banks Field and Carver-Hawkeye Arena. In notes supplied to the Regents for review, the UI stated the new residence hall “will aid in UI efforts to recruit and retain top student-athletes, returning students and will foster student academic success.”
Slater and Rienow Halls are the nearest existing dormitories to athletic facilities, between a half-mile and mile away – a tough walk in the dead of an Iowa winter.
“There isn’t a dorm on that side of the campus,” Rastetter said. “So it just makes sense. That’s why we approved it.”
And that’s why approval of the indoor track – that comes with a price tag of $15 million to $20 million – was important, too. If the current Rec Building requires demolition to accommodate the dorm, approving it now saves time later.
“The fact that track was listed today was partly, if the consultants come back and tell us the best place to put the dorm is where the indoor track is, we just don’t want to have to come back to the board a second time and hold things up,” Barta said.
Sports facility improvements at the UI don’t require public funds. The self-sustaining athletic department – which projects $93.56 million in revenue for fiscal year 2016 – and private donations foot those bills. The residence hall, documents state, “would be funded by dormitory revenue bonds and athletics department gifts and earnings.”
It all goes hand-in-hand. Also included on Barta’s master plan to be accomplished by 2026 are construction of new baseball and softball stadiums, and improvements at Carver-Hawkeye Arena’s video board, sound system, basketball court and concourse.
But Wednesday was an especially big day for Iowa football.
“I think it’s important to continue to enhance Kinnick Stadium,” said Rastetter, a noted supporter of the Hawkeyes. “It’s a special place.
“It’s good for the fan. … It’ll make the stadium more of a modern stadium. It’s good to spend football revenue dollars on football.”