Kentucky on Monday unveiled its plans for a $110-million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium made possible by the recent passing of House Bill 7. The project, which will begin next year and be executed without any state funding, will bring major cosmetic changes and several new features to the stadium that originally opened in 1973 and has not had any major renovation since expanding in 1999.
"Today, we replace words with action," said UK President Eli Capilouto. "We acknowledge the strength of our resolve to compete and succeed in college football's most competitive conference."
The renovation is expected to be completed by the 2015 season and will result in stadium capacity decreasing from 67,000 seats to approximately 61,000. All season tickets will be renumbered and reassigned with location priorities going to fans who have held them the longest.
"Our goal is to take that 67,000 down to 61,000 and really make quality seats," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. "We want to do a really good job in making a quality environment for our team."
To that end, bigger isn't always better, Barnhart said.
"I think what will be unique to us is that we will be a little tighter than some of those stadiums (in the SEC)," he said. "Some of those stadiums tend to go away from you a little bit and create a vastness. In a way, I am trying to make it tighter. That was one of the goals of our project. I would almost say in contrast to what you're asking; we need to go the other way and say, ‘This is what we don't want to do.' We don't want it to feel further away. We wanted to bring fans tighter to the action."
According to Barnhart, about half the seats that will be lost as a result of the renovation will come from tickets that are typically reserved for students. But, he noted, that number has been close to 9,000 seats for several years with students typically claiming 6,000 of those.
Barnhart noted approximately 2,000 current seats will be affected next season as the project gets under way. He added that current ticket prices would remain in place through 2015, but fans may see a slight increase for that season due ot the Cats playing eight home games instead of seven.
During a ceremony at the Nutter Fieldhouse, Gerardo Prado of architecture firm NTNB gave a virtual tour of what the stadium will look like when the renovation is complete.
"As a coach, you talk about one day at a time, one play at a time, UK head coach Mark Stoops said. "I want to fast-forward and get to that look right now. That's beautiful."
The renovation will include the long-awaited recruiting room, which will be located in the east end zone alongside a new locker room for the Wildcats. The team will now enter the field via the goalpost area of that end zone instead of their traditional entry in the northeast corner of the stadium. The UK marching band and student section will also be moving to that section.
The press box will also be moving from its current mid-level position on the south side of the stadium to the top of the structure.
New mezzanine and club plaza levels will be introduced to give fans a better gameday experience, as well as new restrooms, improved concessions and concourse areas that will be 20 feet wider. Approximately 2,000 new chairback seats will be added to the north side of the stadium between the 25 yard lines.
Outside the stadium, the lower facade will feature several feet of Kentucky limestone around the base. The upper portions of the stadium will also receive cosmetic improvements over the original gray steel and girder appearance. All the existing lighting will also be replaced.