By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Making one of the best better.
That’s what will happen after the Board of Regents, State of Iowa on Thursday approved the design, project description, budget, and financing plan for revitalizing the north end zone of the University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium.
Hawkeye fans, well-known for being among the best in college football, were at the forefront of UI director of athletics Gary Barta’s decision to once again improve the stadium that was built in 1929.
“Kinnick Stadium is one of the great college football stadiums in the country,” Barta said. “A big reason is because of our fan base. The structure is awesome, but our fans have historically been the best.
“As we did this project, one of the key principles was to enhance the fan experience. I’m excited that as people see this, they are going to see that has absolutely been accomplished.”
The last upgrades to Kinnick Stadium were completed in 2006. That included work on the south end zone bleachers, locker rooms, replacement of the stadium press box and suites, state-of-the-art scoreboard and bowl sound system, renovation and addition of rest room facilities and concession stands, site restoration around the stadium, and extensive maintenance of the mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems.
But nothing was done to the north end zone area. Until now.
“It became the right time,” Barta said. “We have a great college football venue and we will make sure we keep it up-to-date and consistent with today’s fans’ expectations.”
The finished project will include a second deck for seating, rest rooms, an expanded concourse, improved concessions, an enclosed walkway to the west campus Transportation Center, indoor club seating, outdoor box seating, and a new ribbon board and video board that will be larger than the current board in the south end zone.
Fans will not notice changes to the stadium when the 2017 football season begins Sept. 2 against Wyoming. The north end zone will be torn down following the 2017 season (the final home game is Nov. 18 against Purdue).
When the 2018 season begins, seats will be in place, but the project will not be completely finished. By the start of the 2019 season, all upgrades will be done.
“One of the goals with this project is to offer something for everyone,” Barta said. “We’ll have bleacher seats, chair-backs, premium seating in the form of club, small box premium opportunities, and deck areas. We’ll have a little bit for people of all levels and interests.”
Kinnick Stadium currently seats 70,585. The capacity will dip slightly below 70,000 when the renovation is complete. In 2015, the Hawkeyes were 24th in national attendance, averaging 63,142 in seven home games.
“If we continue at the pace we have been on, we will still be able to maintain that top 25 attendance,” Barta said.
And of course everything the UI athletics department does is 100 percent self-funded. The long-term financial goal for the $89 million venture includes raising $25 million or more and selling bonds that will be partially funded by revenue from club and premium seating. The UI athletics department will absorb the difference.
Since the stadium’s last renovation a decade ago, the Hawkeye football program has won nearly 70 percent of its home games with a 7-0 record in 2015 and 6-1 marks in 2008, 2009, and 2011.
“The stadium experience is unreal,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You can’t help but feel the crowd and the energy and electricity any time you’re on the field. That serves as a great home field advantage for us.”
The Hawkeyes (5-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) will be in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday to take on No. 10 Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2) with the traveling Heartland Trophy at stake. Kickoff is set for 11:01 a.m. (CT) and the game will be televised by ESPN.