courtesy Illinois athletics

Illini announce $132 million renovation plan of Memorial Stadium

Illini continue renovation project that started in 2005 with huge project on stadium's south and east sides

CHAMPAIGN - Josh Whitman made an unprecedented investment into Lovie Smith. Now the Illini athletics director will invest even more in the football program to give his head coach the best possible resources.

Illinois on Monday announced plans for a $132 million renovation of the south horseshoe and east side of Memorial Stadium. The project is a continuation of the vast renovation project that started in 2005 on the stadium's north and west sides.

A press release stated that the renovation includes "a new home for all football operations in the south end zone, including locker rooms; training, recovery, and sports medicine facilities; meeting and office spaces; and recruiting venues. The building will be housed inside a new south grandstand. Work to the east main and balcony stands will feature new restrooms, concessions and elevators, along with enhanced fan accessibility and ADA seating." “Following Coach Smith’s arrival, this project is the necessary next step to building a sustainable, championship-caliber football program,” Whitman said in a press release. “This is an investment in our student-athletes, both present and future, to ensure that they have the resources needed to compete at the highest level. Such a commitment is required if we are to win consistently in the Big Ten and on the national stage. This is the first in a series of facility projects that will ultimately position all Illinois student-athletes for enduring success.”

The athletic department said it submitted a request for approval of architecturalservices and said it will soon choose an architect and engineering firm to complete plans and drawings.

The south end zone project is expected to be completed by the 2019 season and the east side renovations are expected to be completed by the 2020 season.

“This project is an important addition to our program as we continue to build,” said head coach Lovie Smith. “Memorial Stadium is one of the historic and iconic stadiums in the nation, and this renovation will only enhance that reputation. The additions will give both our players and fans a greatly improved experience, from preparation during the week to the game-day atmosphere.”

Illinois hopes to maintain a capacity of more than 60,000 following renovations. Current capacity is 60,670.

Illinois is not yet certain if a Duck Butkus statue will be a part of the project.

Whitman said Illinois may take corporate sponsorships to help fund the project but that Illinois will not change the name of Memorial Stadium or Zuppke Field.

Josh Whitman sent a letter to donors on Monday:


Dear Friends & Fellow Illini:

In March, we took a bold step forward with Illinois Football, hiring coaching icon Lovie Smith to lead our Fighting Illini.  Immediately, we began to build tomorrow’s Big Ten champions.

Coach Smith’s arrival sent a jolt of energy through the Illini Nation.  Throngs of orange-clad Illini have greeted him with unbridled enthusiasm and confidence.  This fever pitch reached its crescendo on September 10, when we saw the awesome power of an Illini Nation on fire.  That night, more than 60,000 raucous Fighting Illini packed Memorial Stadium to watch our beloved football team take the field.  It was our first sellout in more than five years, and we did it in only the second game of Coach Smith’s tenure.

If we were writing a movie, the script for the evening would have ended differently.  But this is not a movie.  It is major college athletics.  The game was an important reminder that successful programs are not built with one bold step.  They are built with thousands of such steps, made steadily by countless people united in pursuit of a consistent and unflinching vision.  We must stay the course and continue our ascent.

On this journey, we will undoubtedly encounter setbacks.  But adversity serves only to galvanize us against the challenges ahead.  It is the resulting strength that will ultimately allow us to persevere – to stand victorious atop the mountain, our orange and blue flag planted firmly at the summit.

Bearing these things in mind, today we announce another bold step forward.  The next phase of the Illinois Renaissance is upon us.

A building boom in college athletics is sweeping the country.  Nationwide, universities are investing billions of dollars in updated athletic facilities.  Projects target the full spectrum of sports, but in no sport has the boom been so pronounced as in football.  Look no further than our Big Ten competitors.  Major football investments are occurring across the conference – not only at schools like Michigan and Ohio State, but also at Iowa, Purdue, and Indiana.  To compete, and ultimately to win, the University of Illinois must invest as well.

In 2005, we launched the Illinois Renaissance with extensive changes to the west and north sides of Memorial Stadium.  Today, as the stadium nears its centennial birthday, we are preparing for another round of dramatic improvements to the program’s iconic home. 

Plans call for an enhanced fan experience on the stadium’s east side, including new restrooms and concessions.  Fans will also enjoy improved accessibility in the form of new entrances and elevators.  Most compelling, however, are the changes intended for the south end of the stadium.  There, the “horseshoe” stands will be demolished, replaced by a new south grandstand.  In addition to amenities similar to those that will be found on the renovated east side, the area will feature greater seating capacity, with fans much closer to the action on the field.  The grandstand will enclose the entire stadium, making it feel more intimate for our fans and more intimidating for our opponents.

Driving the project is the need to update our outdated football facilities.  Today’s program bears little resemblance to that which existed 30 years ago, when the current football operations complex was constructed.  The football staff has grown substantially and now numbers more than 40 full-time professionals.  Improvements to technology and methodology have changed the way players and coaches interact, train, prepare, and recover.  Advancements in sports medicine and strength training have outpaced our facility’s ability to house them.  As a result, we are missing critical opportunities for our football student-athletes to prepare and develop, constrained by the limited functionality of our current facilities. 

Of equal importance is the impact a quality facility has on recruiting.  Make no mistake: before the nation’s best and brightest student-athletes are competing for us, we are competing for them.  Our facilities must demonstrate an institutional commitment to building, supporting, and sustaining a winning football program.  For us to advance, our present limitations can have no place in our future. 

The new south grandstand will house all new training facilities for the Illinois football program.  Features of the new facilities include a grand entryway, expansive locker room and team spaces, meeting rooms, cutting edge sports medicine and weight training facilities, dramatic recruiting areas, and staff offices.  When completed, Illinois Football will have a home that allows us to assume our position as one of the nation’s elite programs.

The timeline is aggressive.  The new football facilities and south grandstand are scheduled for completion prior to the start of the 2019 season, with the renovated east stands completed in 2020.  When the team moves into its new home, Coach Smith will be entering the fourth year of his Illinois tenure.  The coaching staff is already using the facility plans to present a compelling case to the current recruiting class, which will have as many as three years remaining in their Illinois careers to benefit from the new facilities. 

Such ambitious plans do not come cheaply.  Cost estimates for the new facilities total more than $130 million.  No state dollars, tuition dollars, or student fees will support the project, with the athletic program directly responsible for its entire funding. 

We need you to share in our vision.  With your help, every day we are taking the steps necessary to build a successful football program.  Of varying size and scope, these steps are made by Coach Smith, by our coaches and staff, and by our student-athletes.  They are made by me.  And make no mistake, they are made by you.  Today’s step is significant and must be made in unison by the Illini Nation.

We must be unfailing in our faith.  We must be committed to our mission.  Building enduring excellence is not for the feeble or the faint of heart.  We must continue the gritty, tough progress that is the hallmark of champions.  Join us on our journey.  The opportunity stands before us.  The time for action is now.


Josh Whitman
Director of Athletics


courtesy Illinois athletics
courtesy Illinois athletics

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