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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa athletics director Gary Barta made his pitch to the Board of Regents on Wednesday seeking approval for a nearly $90 million renovation of the north end zone in Kinnick Stadium.
The Regents will vote on the proposal Thursday, but Barta released a few details on the project, including a decrease in stadium capacity.
Currently, Kinnick seats 70,585 fans. Barta said if the renovation is approved, capacity will be around 69,000. Iowa averaged 63,142 in attendance last season, placing 24th nationally and seventh in the Big Ten. Iowa hasn’t averaged capacity attendance since 2011. In the three years before last season’s 12-2 run, Iowa’s attendance went 70,474, 67,125 and 67,512.
With the 69,000 Iowa officials are projecting in the renovation, Barta expects Kinnick to remain in the top 25 nationally for capacity.
“Going into the project, one of my goals — just emotionally — was to keep it over 70,” Barta said, “but not at the expense of the fan experience. So, the number of seats, the net, will go down slightly.”
News on the renovation broke last week when the Regents released its docket for Thursday’s meeting. This project would replace the north end zone seating, which hasn’t been renovated since 1983. It’s an area that has drawn complaints from some fans on how cramped and uncomfortable it is.
Iowa plans to replace the general-admission area with “upper and lower general admission seating bowls, two general admission concourses and a premium club level.”
Barta said when plans were revealed, he received a call from a potential donor who is very much behind the project.
“When the board docket become public and several of our media outlets reported on it last week, the next day I had a phone call from somebody that I’ve been talking with about it,” Barta said. “And they aren’t ready yet to disclose their name, they will be, but they committed to a multimillion dollar contribution.”
A big driver for this project is the movement toward premium seating in college sports venues. Iowa entered the premium seating business when it renovated the press box in 2006. The demand is there for more, Barta said.
“We have over 300 people on a waiting list who can’t yet get into the premium seating we have in our current structure,” Barta said. “So we’re comfortable in saying that there’s going to be interest there.”
Fan experience extends beyond the premium seating. Barta said concession capacity will increase by “90-some percent.” Restroom capacities will increase “more than 200 percent and overall 100 percent.”
“The last time we did any renovations for that end of the stadium was 1983 — so it’s been over 30 years — and during that time the fan experience and the fan expectation across the country has changed significantly,” Barta said.
“The goal is not only to take care of the infrastructure, but to enhance the fan experience. So it has everything from wider benches, wider aisles. We’re going to add premium seating at different levels, different types of premium seating, including a club. So, we have fan levels for all interests and economic levels.”
The funding model, Barta said, will include gifts, contributions from premium seating (the annual amount will go against the bonds the UI is asking the Regents’ permission to sell) and athletics department revenues. As part of its proposal, the UI showed projected Big Ten Conference payouts, which range from more than $34 million for 2016-17 to just less than $54 million in 2024-25.
Construction is slated to begin after the 2017 season, when the north end zone structure will be torn down. Barta said seats will be in place for the 2018 season, but “much of the club space, and concession and restrooms, will be more of a temporary mode.”
Barta said a “full experience” would return for the 2019 season. The proposed scoreboard in the north end zone will be bigger than the one currently in the south end zone, Barta said.
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