Dave Heeke has been involved in so many renovation projects that he ought to have his own show on HGTV. “ADditions and Subtractions,” perhaps?
Arizona’s athletic director is about to embark on his most ambitious undertaking yet: rebuilding the west side of Arizona Stadium.
Changes already are underway with the advent of the Skybox Club, which Heeke described in detail in an interview with the Star in his office at McKale Center on Wednesday. But that’s just the appetizer.
If all goes according to plan — a huge “if,” admittedly — an architectural design, financing and a construction schedule will be in place about a year from now. If that all comes to fruition, the west-side renovation could be completed by the start of the 2022 season.
“We have to do the west side,” said Heeke, who stressed that the timeline outlined above might be a bit ambitious. “That has to be a project that occurs here for us to be successful long term.”
Heeke emphasized that overhauling the west side of the stadium — everything below the suite level — is challenging and complex for a variety of reasons.
“It’s a bigger project than tearing seats down and putting seats back in,” Heeke said. “That complicates the timeline. But we want to do it as fast as we can.”
The first stage is formulating an overall plan, a process that already has begun. Heeke said the UA’s development team is “in the midst” of looking “very seriously and specifically” at design components for the west side.
“We’re really drilling down to the intense steps,” Heeke said.
The process faces many hurdles. One is the age of the stadium, which opened for business 90 years ago. As Heeke noted, “The first 30 rows of that stadium are original construction — 1920s original construction.”
The stadium’s confined footprint also poses a challenge. And then, of course, there’s financing.
Heeke said the project would cost “north of $100 million” — more likely in the $150 million to $175 million range. The UA recently invested about $66 million to renovate the east side of Arizona Stadium, Hillenbrand Aquatic Center, Hillenbrand Softball Stadium and the McKale Center locker rooms. Some of that money also went toward the construction of the Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center.
Assuming all the pieces come together, construction on the west side could start as soon as the winter of 2021. It would be a two-phase project sandwiching the ’21 football season. Playing games somewhere other than Arizona Stadium during construction is “off the table,” Heeke said.
The project likely would force fans to relocate for at least one season.
But “those are good problems to have,” Heeke said. “They’ll see what it’s going to be in the end.
“It’ll be challenging. But … we’ve been assured we can do that and still play football.”
Another major component in the planning process is a market survey. The UA will canvas its donors, alumni and fans to find out what they’re looking for in a new-and-improved west side.
Some elements are obvious, including more comfortable seats with better viewing angles; upgraded restrooms, concession stands and accessibility, and a more open environment to keep fans connected to the game when they leave their seats.
Third floor, first stage
The open concept will be evident in the new Skybox Club, the centerpiece of a reimagined third floor of the four-story edifice that abuts the west-side stands. Most of that space has not been significantly modified since it opened in 1989.
“So you’re really talking about the same chairs, the same carpet, the same walkways,” Heeke said. “We completely gutted the space and started over. We’ve ripped everything down.
“Now we’re reconstructing the entire space, from the front glass wall to the guts in the back. Everything. New amenities, new restroom facilities, new club room.”
The Skybox Club will be open for the 2019 season. The first home game is against NAU on Saturday, Sept. 7.
The Skybox Club offers a pregame buffet, an open-air environment, a new sound system, hospitality areas with views of Tucson and new TV displays, according to a news release. The cost for the six-game season is $3,000 per person. Suites on that level are sold out, Heeke said.
The decision was made to renovate the third floor and add the Skybox Club because the project could be completed in a timely manner and “wouldn’t impact our larger vision for the west side,” Heeke said. If anything, it could inspire that vision. The north- and east-side renovations already have.
From east to west
The Lowell-Stevens Football Facility opened in 2013 and dramatically changed the look and feel of Arizona Stadium. Aside from providing new locker, weight and meetings rooms for the team, LSFF houses the Sands Club. One of Heeke’s favorite features of that premium space is access to seating areas that overlook the field from the north end zone.
“You never really lose touch with the game,” Heeke said.
The improvements to the lower bowl on the east side went online in September of last year. Heeke said the feedback from fans has been “incredibly positive.”
“People really appreciated it — the new atmosphere, the new energy,” he said.
That project included expanded concourses, new restrooms and food service and an overall improved flow from the seats to the areas below and behind them.
“When you’re back in the concourse, you can still feel the game coming through those openings,” Heeke said. “We’d like to create something even more robust on the other side.”
- Heeke said pursuing a naming-rights deal for Arizona Stadium has been discussed to offset the renovation costs. “We would entertain something if we get to the right point,” he said. “But … there’s great tradition to the stadium. There’s generations of folks who’ve come through here and passionately cheered our teams. We need to respect that.”
- The Davis Center will become an integral part of the game-day experience, including tailgates, live music and a fan-fest area. Official plans will be revealed later this summer. “It will be fully activated,” Heeke said. “It’s going to be a fun area and an interesting place for people to come, have a beverage and enjoy game day in a controlled environment.”
- Heeke said the UA is close to disclosing how it plans to honor former football coach Dick Tomey, who passed away in May. Tomey is the winningest coach in program history.