ICA study brings possibilities

Washington Athletic Director Todd Turner presented the Facilties Study Committee's ideas for what might be able to take place in terms for upgrades, improvements and enhancements for the Huskies' 'athletic village' in the future.

Turner stressed that the purpose of this presentation was to develop a vision for the future, not necessarily create a blueprint as to how and when change might take place for any renovations "It's more about the possibilities of what might occur on this side of the campus," he said Thursday.

The reason Turner wanted to take a more pragmatic approach was simple - dollars. "I'd love to do it now, but it's impractical," he said. "There's the complexities of the other projects that are going on to consider, but at the end of the day, you have to know how you're going to pay for it. You don't want to build something without a plan as to what's going to happen after that."

The 'other projects' happen to be the Sound Transit light rail station construction, as well as the state Department of Transportation's plans to expand the 520 bridge and have a thoroughfare right next to the south side of Husky Stadium and connecting with Pacific Avenue at Montlake Boulevard. The light rail project starts in late 2008 or early 2009 and is expected to last five-and-a-half years. The 520 expansion build won't occur until 2009 at the earliest.

"As much as we can do while these projects are going on, we've got to do," Turner said, noting that there are things in Husky Stadium that demand attention. He added that while there are no safety concerns, there are plenty of infrastructure and services issues that should be addressed before any major reconstruction takes place. He's also an advocate of working concurrently with the light rail and 520 projects to make sure that those fans that are inconvenienced during these builds aren't done so for any longer than they need to be. "We have to take advantage of what they are doing and also work with them to solve these complex problems," he said.

The process to start looking at major facilities renovations and restorations began back in March of 2005, when the Athletic Department was allowed by the UW Board of Regents to go ahead with a feasibility study of the department's facilities and what could be done to develop a larger plan. The design firm HOK was then hired as consultants to develop that master plan and concepts that would guide the department to the point where they were ready to make commitments on renovations and/or building from scratch.

Here were some of the guiding principles the department felt were important for the master plan:
- Create cohesive "athletics village" that complements UW main campus
- Maximize and protect the setting and views
- Respect tradition
- Be the Huskies - stay collegiate
- Enhance game-day experience - improve spectator facilities
- Improve vehicular and pedestrian circulation
- Welcome visitors to UW and to ICA

"For instance, I don't need to see those Sani-cans, honey pots that are down by the baseball park," Turner said. "That's not what a quality experience is about. That's what we want to improve."

The scope of the project goes far beyond sani-cans and honey pots. "HOK told us that this was the most complex transportation challenge that they've ever encountered," Turner said. "With the confluence of all these projects - with the stadium, the hospital with 13,000 employees, a campus with nearly 40,000 students and the huge transportation projects make this one of the biggest public-use areas in all the world. And it's compounded by a landfill to the north we can't build past, and the waterfront issues and the laws that protect the waterfront. It's a real challenge for us."

In the master plan, the group determined a list of 'identified facility needs'. The first need listed, was Husky Stadium. "You have to start with Husky Stadium, because it's the biggest, most central part of our physical plan here, and it's the economic engine that drives the rest of our athletic programs."

Here are some of the other identified 'needs':
- New football operations center
- Relocated track
- Renovated baseball and soccer stadium
- Renovated locker rooms for most sports
- Relocated athletic administration offices and support offices
- Renovated or new aquatics facility
- Improved or relocated tennis stadium
- Develop an indoor training center for golf
- Improved site circulation (pedestrian and vehicular)
- New signage and graphics throughout all facilities and site

For the signage issue, Turner ironically pointed out that while this presentation was done at the Founder's Club at Hec Ed, 'it could have been at a bank' because there are no pictures or anything in the room to denote that it is part of Washington's rich athletic history or tradition.

By bringing in the west seats of Husky Stadium, it allows for more room between the stadium and Montlake Boulevard, allowing for Washington to help create a 'plaza' that would utilize the station that would be built as part of 520's reconstruction. "It gives us an opportunity to create a whole new 'front door' for athletics at Washington," Turner said.

But at the same time, Turner said that they don't want this confluence of trains, buses and cars to become a transportation hub for the north sound. "We're not built for that," he said.

With the redesign, HOK felt that there were too many 'curb cuts' into the various facilities along the east side of Montlake Boulevard, meaning too many smaller entrances. Instead, they would create one major entrance just north of the IMA building between the existing soccer fields and the E1 parking lot to help with traffic flow. A 'promenade' would be created, providing a grand entrance to all of Washington's facilities, where the road would then continue to wind along its current path behind the north end of Husky Stadium.

There will be a six acre spot of land that currently covers a portion of the Husky Stadium southwest concourse, as well as a sizeable portion of the existing E10, E11 and E12 lots that will be a completely open pit for three years of an expected five-and-a-half year build by Sound Transit for their University transit station. There will be 16-foot plywood walls surrounding the nearly 120-foot pit, which will clearly impact any major event happening at Washington - including football and basketball games - as well as access to any facility or office east of Montlake Boulevard. Turner said that Sound Transit and the Department of Transportation are expected to 'replace' as much of the parking as they can. One idea is to create temporary parking in the triangle between Montlake Boulevard and Pacific Avenue. There already exists parking in the triangle below ground for the University, whose main use is for their hospital across Pacific Avenue.

In fact, while the University itself is going to be severely impacted by both Sound Transit and the State's 520 project, the impact both could have on the school's hospital appears to appears to be the primary concern, both because the hospital's budget margins are a lot smaller than the athletic department's, but also because of their own space and traffic requirements.

"When you talk about the hospital, that's a $2 billion enterprise right there," Turner said. "As complicated as it is for us, it's probably three times as complicated for them. They probably have the most at risk."

But with the school's 'Restore the Core' program in place to maintain and bring up-to-date Washington's 'legacy' buildings, Husky Stadium is one of those iconic 'core' structures of the University, and Turner feels that it's renovation is in line with the school's on-campus initiative. "It's been here since 1920, and this is about restoring the core - making sure that a signature landmark is modernized to meet safety standards, to handle technology and can fuction in today's world."

Turner also mentioned that the athletic department have a responsibility based on their own stewardship to make sure the stadium is maintained for future generations. "Every couple of decades something has happened to make Husky Stadium safe and functional for the next generation, and now is the time where we have to look at that."

He was also quick to point out that when major renovations or builds have taken place, major results within the department have also occured. In 1987, There was the addition of the north deck to Husky Stadium, as well as the creation of a weight room and a team meeting room. Within four years, the Huskies had a national championship in football, as well as three-straight Rose Bowls.

In 2000, there was a major renovation of Hec Edmundson Pavilion, now called Bank of America Arena. Since that renovation, the volleyball team has won a national championship and the mens basketball team has a No. 1 seed and has been to the Sweet 16 the last two years. "We have the finest coach in the country (Jim McLaughlin), and I don't think he would be here if we didn't have the commitment to provide the kind of training tools needed to succeed," Turner said.

In 2001, the creation of the Dempsey indoor facility was supposed to be a help for the football team, but it ended up being a bigger boon to the Olympic sports' teams. As a result, Washington has had six consecutive top-twenty finishes in the Directors' Cup.

As for the future vision of Husky Stadium, here were the main things the master plan came up with:
- Preserve the iconic nature of Husky Stadium
- Bring all stadium services up to today's standards
- Provide a 'front door' to ICA
- Maintain our current seating capacity
- Provide new football support facilities
- Bring seating close to the field
- Provide as many covered seats as possible
- Replace press box
- Allow for circulation around entire stadium at one level
- Increase restrooms and concessions
- Preserve tailgate experience
- Provide adequate operations facilities to service stadium
- Replace bleachers with permanent seats in east end zone
- Improve ADA access and seating opportunities
- Improve ingress, egress and vertical circulation
- Design to be phased as funding allows
- Provide funding opportunities from premium amenities

Whatever phasing plan the department eventually decides to use will be completely tied into the availability of funds to pay for those upgrades at that time.

One HOK design created new bowls by lowering the field and instead of having one jumbotron they had two smaller screens to open up the east end and preserve the view to Lake Washington. Another had a deck added to the west side of Husky Stadium to preserve capacity at roughly 72,500 after taking out the track.

"When you move the field in, you change the radius and you lose seating," Turner said. "And with newer construction you have to bring things up to current code requirements, so you get less seats with the same linear footage, so you either have to extend the lower seating on the west side way back or add some type of an upper deck."

Turner reiterated that it's still just a vision to the future - one of many visions - and it's up to the Facilities Study Committee - to decide which path is the right road to take. Now that Turner has presented this plan to the UW Board of Regents, he has been given four to six months to study the options in place and create a more concrete plan that includes phasing opportunities, as well as more in-depth funding strategy.

Turner also reiterated that part of the reasoning for undertaking a master strategy toward Washington's 'athletic village' has to do with the fact that they currently have no money set aside to tackle any of the projects discussed. "We are starting from scratch, so that's one of the main things we'll have to do in the next four to six months - figure out what we can generate so we can determine what we can undertake. The fun part has been done...we know what we would like to see in the final analysis, so now the hard work begins. How are we going to pay for it and when is it going to happen? And when you add the sound transit project and the 520 project on top of it, it's really complicated."

Whether fans see major changes to Husky Stadium in the next decade or not remains to be seen, but Turner was quick to point out that their responsibility to maintain the core structure of UW's athletic facilities means that they will be spending millions and millions of dollars over many years to make sure that services, safety and infrastructure is updated to improve the overall fan experience.

"We're going to be spending money in Husky Stadium, whether there's new architecture there or not," he said. "There are two elevators at Husky Stadium right now, and the age of our fanbase is going up. Getting up and down on the elevators is a real challenge. It's that sort of thing that means continued investment into the stadium. It needs to be a quality facility."

Asked about revenue streams to help with the renovation, Turner said that the easiest thing to look at is revenue produced by the facility, which is 'new money'. "That money can be used to borrow money," he said. Priority seating, premium seating and boxes are possible alternatives. Turner also said that they would be looking within the department to see if they could take on additional debt. "We are a low-debt athletic department ($1.3 million), but we have to keep attendance and donations up at their current levels.

Ticket prices won't be raised next year because of these plans - simply because there is no fiscal plan in place to go ahead with any immediate changes. "We don't need to create a new idea here, there are lots of models out there," Turner said, adding that they are going to explore all the possible funding options out there that fit the culture at UW. He used examples from luxury boxes to other creative ideas used by other colleges, including business or apartments included right in the stadium addition. "It might be nice to have a business that would overlook Husky Stadium and the lake," he added, also noting they haven't decided on that as a possible solution yet.

"Anytime you make a commitment to invest in your programs, it helps if your teams are good, but I think the fact that we are coming from a difficult period in our history indicates even more why continued investment in what we're doing is necessary.

"I feel very good about our football program right now. I think we are playing incredibly strong schedules. We have a program of high integrity that is young in it's re-evolution. Hopefully an investment in it's infrastructure and facilities that support it will assist in that. Would it be easier if we had just come from the Rose Bowl? Maybe...maybe. But it might not make it any faster."

Washington has already explored the idea of naming rights, using Bank of America as part of their remodel of Hec Ed, so it's very possible that Husky Stadium could also find itself using a brand name in exchange for renovation revenue - for example, Starbucks Field at Husky Stadium.

When asked if the team would have to vacate Husky Stadium if the school were to impliment a major renovation, Turner said that they'd like to still stay at Husky Stadium if possible. He added that if any plans were to be approved by the Board of Regents next spring, the earliest any work would be done would start after the 2008 season.
Here are additional photos from Turner's presentation, including an overhead shot of what the east side of Montlake Boulevard might look like with some of the facilities moved around. Can you spot some of the changes?

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