Q&A - Jennifer Cohen

SEATTLE - Kim Grinolds of Dawgman.com spoke Friday with Jennifer Cohen, Senior Associate Director of Athletics at Washington, for an update on the Husky Stadium renovation project. Cohen was promoted in May, 2008 to oversee the department's development efforts as the senior associate athletic director for development.

Cohen, who previously served as the department's associate athletic director for major gifts since December, 2005, oversees the department's fundraising efforts for various initiatives such as capital projects, planning giving and scholarships.

Obviously the biggest capital project right now for the UW Athletic Department is the $250 million overhaul and redevelopment of their facilities crown jewel - Husky Stadium. Cohen has been gracious with her time in the past to help us understand not only the broad scope of the project, but also the details, all the way down to the new concessions ideas and also seating issues. We caught up with Cohen during Friday's Spring Football practice, and here's what she had to say about how things are going with the Husky Stadium project, which apparently is slightly ahead of schedule.

General Update - "They've laid the foundations for the football operations center, which is going to be phenomenal. That element of the project, we don't talk about it that much, but the size and the magnitude of that building and how it is going to not only support our current student-athletes, but also wow recruits. We've got a recruiting lounge that is basically floor to ceiling windows that will look out over the lake…it is going to blow people away. The new weight room that will be football-only, the training facilities, all that stuff that is at basement level for the kids, all the support areas for them - the team meeting rooms and the coaches offices…everything as far as when you walk into that facility, families and recruits are going to know that we are so serious about football. We're showcasing the beauty of the stadium and having it all in one place."

On the new technologies for the Football-Only Weight Room - "The technology element of not just that space, but of the whole stadium, is something that is still in play. It's been a priority for us from the very beginning to make sure that we were on the cutting edge there. So how do you do that with a football operations center to help the coaches prepare better, to help them communicate them better with the kids, to help tell your story with recruits? And you also have the continued commitment in-stadium to make sure that the new video boards that we have and the ribbon boards that we have and other technology upgrades potentially for seat ordering…we don't have it all finalized yet, but that's something that's still a top priority for us."

On technology changing fast and anticipating its stadium use for the long term - "We hired a consultant on this outside the project - his name is Bob Jordan - and he worked on the new Meadowlands and he's brilliant when it comes to the actual nuts and bolts, the stuff you literally wouldn't understand what they are talking about… to then how does it execute into a game day experience, how does it activate for sponsors and those types of things. He's been really helping us with how you're making sure you have the keys for the right infrastructure in place so that you can adjust and change over time. So there's an investment in infrastructure that has to happen. If you try to buy in at the lower level and try to hodge-podge it together, then you are not relevant. We've been thoughtful to that as well."

On the building of the tunnel - "It's in the same spot…it's already there. Actually the team meeting space where they've always met is still intact as well, so we're keeping that and we're coming up with plans as to how to re-purpose that. It's coming together, no doubt about that."

On being ahead of schedule - "Yeah, and great weather like this helps. Those rainy days are never helpful, and the snow days weren't great, but they've been moving extremely fast. Wright Runstad has been great, and Turner has been unbelievable. We've been very lucky to have them on board. They know what they are doing. Our architects, who we've been meeting with often even though they aren't here - they are out in Kansas City - have been phenomenal."

On the initial contract and getting a good deal based on an uptick in the economy - "That's all Scott's credit (Scott Woodward, UW's Athletic Director). We already had a different project; we'd already invested some resources and money into a different design and a different development team. He was the one that just said…it was 300 million, it didn't include the south deck, it didn't include the ops center the size that this is…he said this isn't right; we can do better. So we pulled the trigger and started over. The timing…the timing on projects like this, especially when it's privately funded…the scope and what we're getting for the scope…if you look at Cal-Berkeley and what they are getting for their price tag, and they aren't even remodeling - I would say it's maybe 2/3's of the stadium, it might even be less than that - and their price point is significantly more than what we're doing. Our quality is going to be great…quite frankly, where the economy is and the timing and all that, on top of that our football program is continuing to grow and headed in the right direction under Steve, so it's all come together for us. We couldn't be better."

On close to getting to the 50 million goal in initial pledges - "We're about a million away. We've got a few gifts that are in the pipeline that could really help put us over that number soon. Another thing is that we won't stop at 50. The goal was 50, but the more fundraised dollars, the less debt we have long-term. Our goal was to always get to 50, but to continue to raise more. We'll raise money until we open the doors."

Seating update - "We are officially sold out of Club Husky. We are officially sold out of Patio Suites. And based on what's going on with some of our corporate sponsors, somewhere between five and eight luxury suites left. The Don James Center is almost sold out. So from a premium standpoint for 2013, all that inventory has already been secured, so that's phenomenal for our fans to make that kind of commitment that early out. You look at schools like Michigan…they were still selling club seats as they were opening the doors to their new stadium. Our fans have clearly wanted that experience. I would say, from a budget and financing standpoint, it's going to meet the expectations of where we needed to be. We had to sell all that inventory to participate in how we're going to cover debt. But we sold some of it…we knew our timelines…we sold some of it faster - not from the timelines standpoint, but I personally thought we would have some inventory left and then we would have the 2012 season while we were down at the Clink to sell the rest of the inventory and be sold out by the time we came in…we were really overwhelmed, especially with Club Husky and the level of interest that people had in premium seats."

On if Club Husky can be expanded? - "Not that space itself, but there are potentially down the road other areas…when you're building you're always looking at what you can do with spaces down the road. The other important point is that we have about 18,000 other Tyee club seats that are going to be available for people, including in the lower bowl those Tyee Heritage chair-back seats that are between the 30's that you get for 10 years, instead of five - which is nice, because you don't have to go through reallocation - and it's the only chair-back seat you can get if you weren't in any of those other premium seats. So there's going to be a lot of other inventory for people. It's been kind of fun…we're doing Clink seat selections now, so all of our fans are picking their own seats this year, and it's going great. It's been kind of fun to see where people want to go. We've got about 75 percent of the club at the Clink already sold out, which is a lot of seats. Our fans are obviously excited about the future, and are willing to invest more."

On any unexpected issues that have come up? - "You almost don't want to say that, because you never know what's going to come up next. But I think we're really past the high-risk things that could happen in the project. So that feels great. Now it's a matter of getting the quality project that we want, keeping the project on budget, keeping the project on timeline, and then obviously making sure we have a way to pay for it. So those are all things that obviously, as you go through the checklist you can say yes, yes, yes, yes - but you can't…you have to keep those things going. You can't stop. Those are continuous efforts."

On when the paint gets to be selected - "Some of that has already been done, but for the premium areas we're really close on all those palettes and finishes and things like that…we did that all pretty early. But for the rest of the stadium, we're going to soon be looking at the bleachers and the color of chairs for the Heritage and what we're going to be doing for the students section graphically and how we tell our story - that's something we're really excited about. We have a great group that's working with Wright Runstad called Downstream…a fantastic company who focuses on sports marketing and branding, so they are helping us. So those images, when that starts to come alive, that's going to be really, really cool."

On the scoreboard configuration - "One big one and two in the corners. So three total."

On the Zone - "The Zone stays. The Zone will most likely be incorporated as part of the stadium. The Zone itself, we may change the layout a little bit and reconfigure some of the bars and some of the things like that - but the Zone and the experience has obviously been a huge hit for fans and folks that don't have a tailgating experience."

On alcohol in the stadium - "There are some questions…so we will have alcohol in Husky Stadium. We will have alcohol in the Zone. We may only serve it pre-game and halftime like we have been. The Club and the Don James Center and luxury suites and patio suites will all have alcohol. There's maybe some issues with what kind of alcohol you can bring into your seat in some of those areas, but it's fine. There are state laws, and there's some issues and we're working with the…the only other thing I would note is that we've hired a new concessionaire - Aramark - who has done a lot of professional and college sports venues. They are top-notch at what they do, so we're working closely with them. That will be fun as we develop those relationships with them to talk a little bit more about some of the food experiences that will be a little bit different than what people are used to in Husky Stadium. We're excited about that. Those plans will start to unfold in the next six months."

On where the National Championship Trophy will be inside the new facilities - "It's stored somewhere now, and we will determine sometime in the future where it's going to be showcased. I wish it was in my office right now, but it's not."


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