Renovations to Neyland Stadium, now priced at $288 million and projected to be fully complete by the 2025-26 school year, include premium club seating, fewer seats and more space. (Rendering courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)
A renovation project at the University of Tennessee's 100-year-old Neyland Stadium, originally conceived in November 2017 and planned for completion this fall, will now be extended, and expanded, according to UT Athletics Director and Vice Chancellor Danny White.
White announced the new plan at an annual meeting of the UT Board of Trustees June 23, the Daily Beacon reported. The campus news source also noted that White met with the board's finance and administration committee to request $108 million more for allocation to the football stadium upgrade.
The requested funds were then unanimously approved by the committee and are in addition to the $180 million approved by the board last summer, bringing the total costs of renovations for the stadium to $288 million.
"We've done a lot of listening over the last 18 months, our fans have expressed what they want their Neyland Stadium to look and feel like, what they want their experience to be," he noted in his presentation. "We all know the building is in dire need of life-support in some places, [and] updating — to say the least — in others. We know it needs to be fixed.
"We really feel like the best is yet to come," continued White, who began his tenure as the Volunteers' athletic director in January 2021. "We have a great opportunity to build the best athletics department in the country right here in Tennessee."
Upgrades Will Give Neyland 21st Century Feel
Ryan Alpert, UT's deputy athletics director, also took part in the presentation to explain the logistics of the new plan, along with the accompanying increase in cost.
"Our project scope includes the necessary inflation costs, significant elements from the 2017 plan, and also new items that we believe will enhance the overall fan experience," he noted.
The Daily Beacon reported that the renovations include stadium-wide Wi-Fi, additional restrooms, renovations to the skybox, new entryways on the south side of Neyland, and the much-anticipated return of the V-O-L-S letter signage on top of the stadium.
Additionally, a new premium indoor "club space" also will be built under the west side of the stadium with exclusive fan access.
"The lower-west club will be a 12,000-sq.-ft, indoor, temperature-controlled experience, adding new concessions, multiple bar locations and restrooms," Alpert explained. "The added benefit of this club space is that it will also bring a significant amount of people off of the west concourse to relieve pressure and congestion."
A major focus of the renovations is increasing space to address a common complaint from fans that Neyland Stadium can feel overcrowded. To fix that, the width of the concourse hallways will be tripled, from 12- to 36-ft. wide.
Additionally, the maximum capacity for the stadium will decrease, from 102,455 seats to 101,915 in time for the 2022 season. White said that capacity will continue to change as future renovations are completed.
The added space also will allow for 50 new concession and amenities stands at Neyland, Alpert announced, more than doubling the current 40 that have served fans in the past several seasons. The existing refreshment stands also will be renovated and updated to help move visitors more swiftly to and from their seats.
"We're going to do it the right way … strategically and responsibly," White explained. "But the time is right now. We have a lot of great things happening — a ton of positive momentum — but we feel the sense of urgency in terms of making this project a reality and getting the ball moving as quickly as possible."
Premium Fan Fees to Pay for Project
The new business model for UT Athletics will use revenue funds from new premium fan experiences and seating, such as the club space, to pay for Neyland Stadium's renovations.
Because of the potential revenue generated by high-end seating options, 60 percent of seats at the venerable old football stadium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River, will see a reduction in price.
The UT Daily Beacon noted that it is still unclear, though, whether student tickets will increase or decrease in price.
According to White, the cost of the renovation also will be covered by future revenue, and the athletics department reported that it will see a 16.9 percent increase in revenue by 2026 should the renovations be completed by then. His department's projections are that Neyland the renovations will likely not be completed until the 2025-26 academic year.
At a press conference following his presentation, White attributed the $108 million increase in funding to nationwide inflation, which he said is affecting costs.
"Construction costs have increased, but the project is changing too," he explained. "Some of those changes are [from] the revenue-producing assets that we're adding to the project, [while others] reduce some construction costs. We're just trying to maximize the fan experience and build a business plan that works for the project."
The good news for football fans, White noted, is, "The lower west club, the north endzone deck, the north endzone video board and the new standing room will all be completed for this fall," while adding that the new chairback seating in the lower west bowl also will be ready by the first home game on Sept. 1 against Ball State University.
So even though hardhats and rafters might become a common sight at Neyland for the next few years, autumn Saturdays will still be the time for Volunteers' football in Knoxville.
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