February 24, 2009

Burke: Stadium needs upper deck

Athletics director Morgan Burke hasn't entirely changed his tune about proceeding with Phase II of the Ross-Ade Stadium renovation project, but it's safe to say by the sounds of it he's leaning that way.

Plans are in place for an upper deck on the east side of Ross-Ade Stadium to be constructed (opposite the press box, a.k.a. The Pavilion), a project that could be completed in one off-season since the foundation has already been laid for the upper deck.

For quite some time, Burke has said that phase would not begin until season ticket sales were consistently around the 52,000-53,000 mark.

However, Burke has come to the realization that the upper deck is a must as long as season ticket sales don't stall or plummet.

"We do need to get the deck done," said Burke, who added there is no timeline for the undertaking of the project. "We haven't forgotten about it and I think strategically it needs to be accomplished.

"We're stuck right now because we can't move tickets in the north or south end zones so if you don't introduce some better price points, you're going to have difficulty."

"I would still like to see an up tick (in season ticket sales)," Burke added. "I don't want (sales) stalling at 42,000."

Burke said if progress was being made on season ticket sales and even though they weren't to the level he once thought was necessary, he would concur the timing was right to go ahead with Phase II.

The upper deck would include approximately 15 suites, adding to the stadium's already 34 suites on the west side.

"If you're going to make that thing work, you'll have suites underneath the deck and you have to be able to sell those otherwise you're going to have a big mortgage that you have no payment for," Burke explained.

The upper deck would likely consist of 8,500 seats, but the plan would include leveling of the south end zone bleachers. That demolition would eliminate 7,000 seats. Under such a scenario, Ross-Ade's capacity would increase to between 65,000-66,000.

Former coach Joe Tiller said once those south end zone bleachers were demolished, an athletic administration building needed to be constructed on that space. Burke disagrees now that the $100 million Mackey Arena renovation project is underway. That massive undertaking will eliminate many of the athletic department's current space problems and will be completed for the 2011-12 school year.

Instead Burke says once the bleachers go, he would like to see the south end zone become a nicely landscaped hill with better sightlines to the campus. To achieve that the current scoreboard/videoboard would have to be changed to be more rectangular in nature.

Phase I of Ross-Ade's renovation project was finished in 2003 and cost $70 million.

There are plans for a Phase III, which would add a deck on the north end of the stadium, but whether that ever gets done remains to be seen.

If all three phases were finished, the cost would exceed a combined $100 million.

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