As Ray Anderson spoke on the main concourse level at Sun Devil Stadium Tuesday morning, a pleasant breeze swept through the crowd of gathered reporters.
Arizona State's Vice President for Athletics smiled knowingly. Anderson had previously tested out how the updated stadium felt on one of Arizona's recent 100-plus degree days and felt a definite improvement in air flow as a result of Phase II construction.
Sun Devil fans too, should be able to feel the difference when the team kicks off its season Sept. 3 against Northern Arizona. Though construction on the $268 million project will be ongoing -- most noticeably the suite level and student-athlete facility at the northern end of the stadium -- Anderson said ASU is ready for the season's first kickoff.
"You want to know that it's inviting for all ages and anywhere you sit in the stadium, you want to know that you're engaged and you're part of the support," Anderson said. "And that it's just a fun and welcoming atmosphere and hopefully, atmospherically more comfortable, particularly in the early part of the season when it's usually hot. I've learned that in my two season here. But I think you'll notice that the ventilation and the breeze is real."
Immediately following the 2016 season construction crews will begin work on the east side of the stadium. They'll complete Phase III of the project by next summer, a result which will yield ostensibly will be an entirely new venue save for the press box and uppermost areas of the west side seating. Air conditioned suites for the Founders, Legends and Coach's clubs will be complete, as well as the student-athlete facility, which will become ASU football's new home.
"We're going to kick off on Sept. 3," Anderson said. "And while we're going to have some things left to be done, we will have a field, we will have seats, we will have safe entrances and exits, we will have restrooms, concessions, and actually, if you feel it up here now, I'm very convinced that we're going to have ventilation and a breeze that people aren't used to on a warm evening.
"This was a massive undertaking, this phase two. I don't know the construction lingo per se but they say trying to preserve some of the old structure and reinforce it and then build around it was very challenging. So they did a nice job getting it done. That at times brought some, I don't know what the word is, some angst on my part as I heard some of the challenges you know early on. We were doing some digging and all of a sudden there was more substance and depth and breadth to the digging than we had anticipated and we had to deal with that but they got through it in good shape. But overall, I think we've had a very good result, and I think we'll see that when we kick off on September 3rd."
Capacity of the stadium has dropped from more than 70,000 two seats ago to 56,232 in 2016. But more than 13,400 seats in the lower west bowl now have individual stadium seats with cupholders and increased legroom. Restrooms are brand new and can accommodate more patrons. There's been a massive technological improvement as well, with wifi access throughout the west side. One of the largest video boards in a college venue in the country, 48 feet by 113 feet, will be in place for the 2017 season along with a significantly upgraded audio system.
Accessing the main west concourse, which is approximately 20 feet higher than it was previously, can now be done via approximately 60 stairs at the renovated southwest entrance. Elevators are also available immediately adjacent to the stairs. When the east side is complete, there will be a 360 degree concourse that will allow fans to walk around the entire stadium.
"The grand staircase here that as fans walked up, it felt like you were going into something special," said Rocky Harris, Sun Devil Athletics' Chief Operating Officer. "Before, if you remember, it was like a road that wrapped around and there were kind of switchbacks. They wanted something that really looked it and it feels like Arizona too with the architecture, the landscape and the design so as you look around it looks like a nice house in Paradise Valley or a business center.
"The concourse, as you walk through you're going to be surprised as to how open it is to the field. And even on the back end, they tried to open up the buttes to the concourse as well. Although we added new restrooms, facilities, concessions, they really took a lot of time trying to figure out how to make it feel open as you go in. The height of the course is raised, the width of it is raised, and even the visibility to the field."
Season ticket holders have been invited to tour the stadium this Saturday, August 27, between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.