Monday, April 23, 2018
Colleges

New football complex centerpiece of Florida's athletic facilities upgrades

GAINESVILLE — When Florida coach Jim McElwain invited Gators legend Steve Spurrier back to talk to his players in the spring, Spurrier walked into the team room and remarked how everything looked the same.

"I thought, 'Hmm — that's a telling sign,' " McElwain said.

And it's about to change.

The Gators will build a stand-alone football complex near the practice fields, according to a plan presented Friday to the University Athletic Association's board of directors.

The facilities master plan had been in the works for months and includes renovations to baseball's McKethan Stadium and softball's Pressly Stadium, along with a dining hall for all athletes.

But the centerpiece of the roughly $100 million project will be the 100,000-square foot football center that McElwain believes is necessary to compete at the highest level.

"It's just to fulfill the vision of what he thinks that we'll need to be successful, now and in the future," athletic director Jeremy Foley said.

The complex will stand just north of the track stadium and west of the football practice fields, in the current track and field throwing area. It will include a weight room, locker room, training room, team meeting rooms, a recruiting lounge and an open foyer to display trophies.

"It'll have all of the elements that they're going to need," said Chip Howard, executive associate athletic director for internal affairs.

It will also allow for upgrades to other parts of the athletic department.

The football team's current 25,000-square foot weight room at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be renovated and opened up to other teams. The current football offices will become administrative offices.

"You talk about one of the premier athletic programs in America doesn't have a front door," Foley said. "We have a front door now — and a really nice one."

In addition to new meeting rooms, the baseball stadium will get a partial roof structure to shade fans and increase capacity by about 500, to 6,000. The softball stadium will double its capacity, to 2,500, while adding shading and meeting rooms.

Friday's news was the first real concrete step in the process, but actual concrete probably won't begin flowing for months.

The university will begin raising money before hiring architects to create specific designs. How the program pays for the project will depend on the philosophy of whoever replaces Foley, who is set to retire Oct. 1.

"It's going to take a combination of bonding and fundraising to make it happen," said Foley, who plans to continue fundraising in an emeritus role. "We're going to need Gator Nation's help."

McElwain has been critical of the Gators' facilities, which have lagged behind much of the SEC and haven't helped on the recruiting trail against programs like Alabama or Oregon. But Friday's development is only the latest sign of progress at UF.

The school opened its new academic center in June after a $25 million renovation project. The football team's $17 million indoor practice facility opened in August 2015.

"The way we're heading forward is really exciting for us," McElwain said. "And the things that I think are on the horizon here, I'm pretty fired up over it."

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

   
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