DESTIN — It has been about 10 months since the Florida Gators completed their last major facilities project by opening the Heavener Football Training Center, which means the next one is looming on the horizon.
A major, long-awaited upgrade to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“We’re getting closer to putting more detail into the plans,” athletic director Scott Stricklin said this week at the SEC’s spring meetings. “Don’t really have a timetable yet to share, but it’s taken a lot of time and demanding a lot of time right now. And it should. It’s very important.”
The stadium is aging. It needs more than just a fresh coat of paint, as Florida officials have said over the years. There have been smaller updates, such as new ribbon boards and better Wi-Fi, but much work remains.
“Whatever work we do there doesn’t need to be a Band-Aid,” Stricklin said. “It needs to be a multigenerational solution to continue to give that stadium for future generations a chance to come and watch the Gators there.”
That means taking a look at everything. What happens outside the building? What happens when fans walk through the gate? How do the concourses flow? Do they need more restrooms? What better premium seating options can Florida provide?
There are less obvious infrastructure changes the Gators need to make, too. Stricklin said the stadium houses 180,000 square feet of offices.
“That’s 180,000 square feet we can’t use for our fans on a game day,” he said.
Can the Gators find a way to free up some of those spaces to widen the concourses or add seating options?
When the Gators toured the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field, they saw a stadium that has 1,000 points of sale for concessions. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has 200, though it seats more than 7,000 more fans. It doesn’t have its own kitchen, so Florida must bring in food from elsewhere. An update would allow Florida to cook on site, providing more, better options that should create a better fan experience.
The Gators want to do all that while ensuring The Swamp still feels like The Swamp. That’s why they are working with companies that worked on venues such as the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park so they can modernize an iconic stadium without losing its charm.
“That’s ultimately the goal,” Stricklin said. “You want to retain what’s special about The Swamp but provide NFL-style fan amenities and also have a great place for students to be a part of it as well. So you kind of want to combine all that into one mix. To do that you have to touch everything.”
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.
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