The Camp Randall Stadium renovation has vigorously taken shape since the close of the 2003 football season. Three scoreboards, an athletic department office building, three levels of luxury seating and a fifth-level concourse are just some of the most striking new amenities ready for the 2004 season.
"We're calling it a halftime, realistically it will be about two-thirds complete," said John Chadima, UW's associate athletic director for operations.
The smile on Chadima's face could not be contained as Cullen-Smith project executive Jim Schumacher led a media tour of the new facility Aug. 20. It was one of countless meetings, tours and interview sessions Schumacher has conducted throughout the course of the project. For this tour, the last one before Wisconsin's Sept. 4 opener against Central Florida, the anticipation of finally unveiling years of accomplishments was palpable.
"I'm going to be excited about seeing all the people in the stadium," Schumacher said.
"I've been asked more and more questions here the last couple weeks: what's it going to be?," he added. "We keep looking at this empty bowl, going what's it going to be like? We've seen it just moving the athletic department into their new office building. They've been in this old stadium for so long. Now, they're in new bright, shiny offices and it's just the change in the face of people."
Schumacher and Chadima are not the only ones anxiously awaiting the unveiling of the 2004 edition of Camp Randall Stadium. Add players, coaches and 80,000 fans to that list.
"I can't wait to see that thing cranked up with 80,000 people in there," Wisconsin quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton said. "I think it's going to be very imposing and intimidating place to play. I know our kids and coaches are fired up about it."
There should be plenty of smiles come Sept. 4. Among the renovations completed for 2004:
- The addition of three new scoreboards with video-replay capability and a new sound system.
- A fifth-level concourse with two concession stands, eight restrooms (four female, four male) and 58 handicap accessible seats.
- Three levels of luxury seating above the east stands.
- A four-story athletic department office building in the southeast corner of the stadium.
- New eighth-level offices for football coaches and staff in the northeast corner of the stadium.
- The addition of about 3,800 seats, driving the capacity to 80,100. The first five rows were removed from east and west stands to eliminate obstructed view seating and the stadium's bowl was completely filled in on the south end.
- A new concourse under the seats in the south end with concession stands, restrooms, a guest services center and a new first aid center.
- A new visiting team locker room, tunnel and media room. Visiting teams will now enter the stadium from the southeast corner of the stadium rather than the northeast.
- A new ticket office, located outside the stadium's southeast entranceway, will service will-call operations on football game days this season and will adopt the bulk of athletic ticket sales later this calendar year.
"It's very exciting to see all the changes that have been made," wide receiver Brandon Williams said. "I can see it being one of the best stadiums in the country."
Within the $107 million project, $15 million of work remains, to be completed by the 2005 season opener. Everything that was scheduled for completion prior to the Sept. 4 opener is right on schedule.
"We are right now in cleanup mode," Schumacher said.
Driving to Camp Randall Stadium was especially tricky last season due to construction on West Johnson Street. That project has since been completed and no major street construction is taking place near the stadium. University officials, however, are still reminding fans to arrive early. Stadium gates open 90 minutes before kickoff.
Construction on East Washington Avenue between Blair and First streets could cause delays as patrons approach downtown from the east. The biggest concern, though, is that fans who have become accustomed to finding their seats in a particular way will arrive Sept. 4 with a confusing array of options before them.
"I think there's a learning curve in the first couple games for people, the best way to get to their seats," associate athletic director for administration Doug Beard said.
All stadium gates will be open this season. Patrons entering the stadium at the southeast end, however, will notice remarkable changes. The fire lane that stretches between the stadium and the Shell to the east was closed last season due to the construction. It will be re-opened this year, but is now a part of the stadium.
In addition to the fire lane, there is now a switchback ramp in the southeast portion of the stadium, with a wide walkway to allow fans to move more easily between the first, third and fifth levels. The old, narrow east side stadium tunnel and stair towers remain. There are also four new elevators, but those are reserved for suite and club seat holders, or for handicapped seating.
"Elevators are going to be a challenge," Beard said, alluding to the fact that at first glance all patrons will likely expect to be able to use them. "Anything new is going to be a challenge. We are going to learn as much that first game as the patron is. We're going to make adjustments going into the second game."
The most dramatic differences will take place for fans sitting in the south end of the stadium. The new south concourse is separated from the Field House, though the new restrooms were designed so that they can serve events at Camp Randall or the Field House. The south portion of the field-level track that has served as a pedestrian walkway has been removed and new seats have been added so that the south stands end where the field begins. The rest of the track will be removed prior to the 2005 season. The bowl has been closed off, with additional seating in the southeast and southwest corners. The athletic department's Kellner Hall office building now sits in the southeast corner of stadium. In 2005, fans will no longer be able to walk directly onto the field level from the open southeast end: the portion that remains open this year will be turned into a Badger merchandise store.
"The south end has changed dramatically," Beard said. "The people with tickets in the south end now have some of the best tickets in the house with the amenities and the bathrooms, the concession stands right behind them. They have the scoreboard right in front of them."
The scoreboard that towers above the student sections on the north end is the single most impressive sight in the new stadium. It may be the largest at any NCAA venue: 50 feet high and 170 feet wide, the scoreboard houses a matrix board for graphics and statistics and a video replay board, each 23 feet high and 44 feet wide. There is also an auxiliary display with a 13-by-23-foot screen affixed to Kellner Hall. A smaller screen hangs beneath the canopy near section A in the southwest corner of the stadium to serve fans who otherwise would not be able to see replays.
Between the matrix and replay boards on the main scoreboard rests a large sound system, which, as anyone who has recently walked along Breese Terrace knows, is fully operational. When the music is turned up, as it has been during the occasional testing that has taken place beginning last week, it can be heard clearly blocks away from the stadium. Inside the stadium, the volume and clarity is remarkable.
The visual and audio systems are just two of the many that have been tested as Cullen-Smith and the athletic department gear up for an Aug. 27 game simulation, which is closed to the public.
"We are just going to run everything," Schumacher said. "The mechanical systems have all been operational. We've had what we call the Badger flush: we have consecutively flushed all the toilets in the stadium. Anything operational like that."
Beard expects the new east side fifth-level concourse to be congested this year. It is designed to serve people sitting in the top 15 rows of the east stands, according to Chadima, but could draw plenty more this year, while work continues on the third-level concourse.
"A lot of people are going to turn around in their seats and see the fifth level and go, ‘concession stands, bathrooms, I'm headed there,'" Beard said.
The third-level concourse will be open on the east side this year but with temporary amenities. By the time the season opens next year, the third-level concourse will have its own new restrooms and concession stands and will wrap around the stadium's north stands, eventually connecting with the first-floor concourse on the west side. The east side first-floor concourse will be renovated next year, as will the main concourse on the west side. Two new, field-level portals will be cut on both the west and east sides of the stadium. The west side will also receive two new elevators (replacing the one that currently exits) and permanent lighting. This season will be the last year the Badgers have to truck in portable lights and generators for twilight or night games, as they will need to for this year's Penn State game Sept. 25, which will kickoff at either 4:45 or 5 p.m.
Schumacher's message for fans seated on the west side: "Just wait, we're coming. You're going to get the same benefits."
Beard stressed that the stadium is not yet complete, so game-day operations will likely need adjustment as the season progresses.
"It is going to be a wonderful game day environment," he said. "People are really going to see a lot of changes that are going to positively impact their enjoyment of our games…if people can be patient and then look towards '05 it's very, very exciting."