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The north end zone hasn't been renovated since 1983. Danny Lawhon/HawkCentral.com

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CEDAR FALLS, Ia. — Kinnick Stadium will lose about 1,500 general-admission seats in its north end zone as a result of an $89.9 million renovation, University of Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told a Board of Regents committee Wednesday.

The three-year project is designed to provide more comfort for fans in the form of wider aisles and benches, and more restrooms and concession stands, while also adding 1,718 “premium” seats that will generate increased revenue for the university, Barta said.

The construction was approved after a brief discussion by the regents’ Property and Facilities Committee and was approved by the board on Thursday.

Barta had previously said that he wanted to keep the football stadium’s capacity, currently listed at 70,585, above that 70,000 threshold.

“It became clear to me that in order to have the fan experience that we needed and expected and our fans were going to enjoy, I was going to have to go slightly below,” he said. “I’m comfortable with that. We (will be) able to stay in the top 25 (nationally) in attendance as long as our fans keep coming.”

The Hawkeyes ranked 24th in the nation in attendance last year, with an average crowd of 63,142.

Barta said all current season ticket holders in the north end zone will be taken care of once a new structure is built there for the 2018 season. In addition, the university has a waiting list of more than 300 people desiring premium seats, and they also will be accommodated when the project is completed for the 2019 season.

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Other details of the project Barta revealed Wednesday:

  • Financing will come from donors, increased revenue from the premium seats, and athletic department money primarily generated from lucrative new TV contracts. Barta said the goal is to raise $25 million in gifts, another $2-3 million in ticket revenue and the rest from his department’s projected income. The athletic department expects to see $34.3 million in Big Ten Conference payouts this fiscal year; that number is projected to balloon to $49.3 million annually by 2021-22.
  • The cost of the project, the first in that part of the stadium since 1983, more than doubled from the time Barta first sought permission from the Regents to explore it 18 months ago. Then, he envisioned it being in the $35-40 million range. That initial estimate was made before consulting with architects and construction firms, however. Barta said that the tight location involved, the need for construction to not interfere with a football season and the cost of materials all necessitated a higher price tag. “Getting it done in that number of days to make sure that we can have fans in the seats, you have to pay a little bit of a premium for that,” he said.
  • The renovation will take place in three phases once the university hires a construction firm. Next summer, work will be done underneath the end zone seats, from the northeast side below the road to the adjacent parking ramp. None of that will be noticed by fans, who will see no visible changes for the 2017 season other than the installation of new turf. Next, the end zone will be razed and new seats built in time for the 2018 season, when all the outdoor seating will be in place. “It will still have some of the appearance of a construction zone because some of the club space, the concession space and the restrooms will be temporary in nature,” Barta said. The full project will be completed for the 2019 season.
  • The project will include bench seats like the current arrangement, although with more leg room for fans. There will be additional chair-back seats outdoors as well, along with a couple of patio spaces. The breakdown will be 8,516 general-admission seats in an upper and lower bowl; 1,570 outdoor club seats with “premium amenities;” and 148 loge-style seats. The price for the premium seats has not been established yet, Barta said, but will be slightly less than what fans pay now for suites and club seating. Outdoor club seats currently start at $2,400 per seat for a season.

Other additions, according to a news release from the university, include:

  • An increase restroom facilities by 146 percent, including a 200 percent increase in women’s facilities. 
  • 90 percent increase in concession points of sale.
  • 42 percent increase in concourse width in the north end zone.
  • 25 percent increase in patron legroom, and wider aisles with handrails.  
  • The new concourses will increase from 24 feet to 34 feet in width, with a dedicated concourse for upper-level seating.  

Stadium renovations are commonplace in college football, as the TV revenues rise and some fans demand more luxury. Earlier this month, Illinois announced plans for a $132 million remodel of its Memorial Stadium. Ohio State is undertaking a four-year renovation project of Ohio Stadium at a cost of $42 million that also includes a reduction of 2,600 seats. Its current capacity is 104,944. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Purdue got approval last week to spend $5.6 million merely to add permanent lights to Ross-Ade Stadium.

The last major project at Kinnick occurred 10 years ago, cost $86.8 million and included a new press box, scoreboard and permanent seating in the south end zone.

“It’s what fans today want out of their experience. It’s not necessarily important because someone else is doing it. That’s part of it,” Barta said of the need to modernize Kinnick. “Fans want wider aisles, premium (seating) opportunities, different types of food levels, different types of indoor, outdoor space. Some people still choose to sit outside, because they love that. But we have some fans who are more interested in having a club-type experience.”

Barta does not anticipate the $89.9 million cost to rise. If it does, he’ll need to come back to the Board of Regents for approval.

The Kinnick remodeling is the centerpiece of an estimated $200 million the athletic department plans to spend on construction in the next 10 years, Barta said. The department spent $230 million in the past decade.

And the new capacity at Kinnick need not be permanent, Barta noted. Architects presented him with some ideas for adding seats in the future, if so desired.

“If we ever feel like we need to go back over 70 for some reason, there are a couple of ways that could be accomplished,” Barta said. “Those are probably on the back of a napkin somewhere.”

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