GAINESVILLE – After months of detailed conversations and proposals about a stand-alone football complex, Florida got stuck on one problem.
Its baseball stadium was squeezing space for football.
On Friday, the Gators announced their $50 million solution: Build a new baseball stadium for the defending national champions to make way for a football facility that will help that program add to its collection, too.
Both projects and an upgrade to the softball stadium are part of a $130 million facilities package approved Friday by the board of trustees to keep UF competitive in college sports' arms race.
"Our athletic department is consistently among the top five in the nation," athletic director Scott Stricklin said, "and it is our intent that all three of these facilities mirror that."
The most expensive component will be the $65 million football-only facility. UF initially announced its plans for the structure in September 2016, but space limitations confined it to a less-than-ideal plot of land just north of the track stadium.
The new proposal puts it where McKethan Stadium currently stands, allowing it to be larger (130,000 square feet, as opposed to the initial 100,000) and connected to the indoor practice facility. Instead of three stories, it will be compressed into two to make it even more efficient.
That last point sounds minor, but it’s not. The NCAA limits coaches’ interactions with players to four hours a day, so every second players spend walking down the hall is one they can’t spend on improving. Players waste 20 minutes walking from the locker room to practice; the new facility will drastically cut that transit time.
Aside from the location, timeline (opening in 2021) and basic needs, most of its details will be determined later. Don't expect Alabama-like opulence. Its focus will be on function, and perhaps fitting the campus' collegiate gothic look.
Construction is expected to begin in late 2019 or early 2020, depending on how things progress with baseball.
"We are excited to know that our national championship softball and baseball teams are getting upgrades for their respective facilities and fans will have a great experience in their new stadiums," football coach Dan Mullen said in a statement. "I'm also thankful for the deliberative and strategic approach we are taking in building our football training complex. We will build the top facility for the University of Florida football program with the number one emphasis on doing what is best for the development of our players."
UF's 2016 plan called for about $28 million in renovations to the baseball stadium, but the Gators decided to expand the investment to $50 million and start anew, on Hull Road near the lacrosse team's Dizney Stadium.
The new stadium will be almost entirely shaded with all 5,000 seats boasting permanent chairbacks. With non-traditional seating, standing room and a 360-degree walk-through concourse, its capacity expands to 10,000. UF plans to have it ready for the 2020 season.
UF also announced $11 million in upgrades for softball's Pressly Stadium, which should be ready by the start of next season.
These are phases 2 and 3 of UF's facilities masterplan. The first round included the new indoor practice facility and renovations to the O'Connell Center. Phase 4 and beyond could include updating Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The Gators have already identified $73 million in funds ($50 million in bonds, $13 million in philanthropic support and $10 million in the University Athletic Association's investment earnings). UF hopes to complete the rest of its fundraising by the time football construction begins.