After releasing the first architectural renderings last week along with a board of trustees-approved budget not to exceed $38 million for the school’s football stadium expansion, Coastal Carolina University officials spoke more in depth this week as the project comes into sharper focus.
That $38 million figure does not reflect an official estimated cost from the architects – that number is not expected until sometime in January – but it gives the university some fixed parameters as talks continue with the firms involved in the project.
For that matter, many details are still fluid as those discussions continue, including a projected capacity, when the construction can officially begin and the various revenue streams that will ultimately pay for the project.
The message Coastal Carolina’s leaders emphasized this week, though, is that everything is proceeding as expected and that when completed the new Brooks Stadium will not only facilitate the Chanticleers’ move to the Sun Belt Conference and jump to the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision – the impetus for the expansion – but could also be an asset to the community by drawing in other events.
“When it’s all said and done I think it’s not only going to be a showcase for what our program is doing, but I think it’s going to be a showcase for our area,” Chants athletic director Matt Hogue said. “This is a facility now where you’re going to talk about maybe a country music fest ends up in our stadium. I’m just throwing out ideas, obviously we’ve had no discussions about something like that, but those types of events I think now become attractive to our facility because of the amount of seats. The potential to maybe host a bowl game.
“We’re going to bring into the discussion events and items that can draw people to this region that really are external to Coastal. It opens up a lot of opportunities and a lot of possibilities, and that’s where I hope people can focus on what the broad picture is for what this means not only to our university but to our community versus just trying to always count the dollars and the cents. We’re going to be quality stewards of the funds. We are going to be prudent with how we spend the dollars, I can assure you of that.”
As for those dollars and cents, university president David DeCenzo said he expects a true estimate from the architects by mid to late January so Coastal Carolina can get on the February schedule for phase two approval from the state, which will issue the bonds for the project.
“We don’t know [a true cost] yet. You’re pricing it based on renderings,” he said. “… It’s obviously much more than just adding 10,000 seats. You’re trying to find the best way of creating the fan experience, and part of that is getting people in and out of the stadium in the most effective and safest manner.”
The renderings released last week showed the closing in of the seating bowl on the end of the field by Adkins Field House, an upper seating deck on the S.C. 544 side along with a suite level in the middle, a boardwalk connecting the open end of the field behind the scoreboard and a new entrance plaza at the corner of S.C. 544 and University Blvd.
When it’s all said and done I think it’s not only going to be a showcase for what our program is doing, but I think it’s going to be a showcase for our area.
CCU athletic director Matt Hogue
DeCenzo added further details while discussing the progress of the project with The Sun News earlier this week.
▪ There will be a concourse extending all the way around the lower bowl of seats with added concession amenities and restrooms (to the required specifications of the latest building codes).
▪ The new suite level will be operated by the Chanticleer Athletic Foundation and will be able to accommodate 300-plus people with the possibility to expand that area to include additional private suites if there is enough interest.
▪ The existing suite area on the other side under the press box will be redesigned and broken up into three separate suites, including the president’s box and one for the visiting president/athletic director.
▪ And what is currently the main entrance to the stadium will likely be closed up with two new primary entrances opening in that S.C. 544/University Boulevard corner along with a shuttle dropoff area and diagonally across on the other corner by Adkins Field House. What is presently a retention area there will be filled in and a new gate built so that fans can walk past the softball and baseball stadiums and continue down that sidewalk right into the football stadium.
Everybody knows that this is a transformational piece to the university. We just want to make sure we’re getting everything that is needed and will represent this institution well.
CCU president David DeCenzo
The exact capacity for the new Brooks Stadium, which presently seats 9,214, is still to be determined, but decision-makers have discussed the idea of setting it at 21,954 as an homage to Coastal Carolina’s opening in 1954.
Of course, though, everything is subject to being tweaked until the final designs are formalized.
“This original rendering was everything A to Z. We’ve then got to look at, are all the bells and whistles they’ve put in the most effective bells and whistles?” DeCenzo said.
The biggest development from the initial conversations about what the stadium expansion might entail is that it was determined replicating the four-story building that presently exists on the east side of the stadium was not possible on the west side due to the easements of S.C. 544.
But DeCenzo said he was very pleased with the first set of designs delivered by Stubbs Muldrow Herin architects, a Mount Pleasant-based firm working in partnership with Heery International on the project.
“It to me, and a lot of us in our discussion with the board, it’s a statement. It’s going to look like a first-class stadium,” he said. “… There’s going to be some tweaks, we all know that. I don’t want anybody to think that the renderings we put out are ultimately what’s there. There’s going to be a couple of things that the board have asked us to take back to the architects and say, ‘Can you do some things here? Can you make it look a little more like X, Y and Z?’ We’ll just ultimately see.”
After further approvals from the state, the project would then be put out to bid to construction firms.
“Conceivably mid to late summer we can start the construction,” DeCenzo said. “And what ultimately we will have to talk about is what construction can be done that’s safe while we’re still playing our games [in 2016]?”
The Chants face a two-year transition process in moving up from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to the FBS. They will play an FCS schedule next fall while not being eligible for the playoffs and will begin playing a Sun Belt/FBS schedule in 2017 with no postseason eligibility until the following year.
The goal, though, is to have the project complete by the start of the 2017 season.
“Everything we’ve heard at this point it’s potentially doable to have it done for the 2017 season,” DeCenzo said.
But as Coastal Carolina fans are well aware by now after lengthy delays to both the school’s basketball arena and baseball stadium projects in recent years, there are no guaranteed time lines for such things.
“There are many things we can’t control,” Hogue said. “… I don’t think you ever want to pin yourself into any final date when you’re dealing with construction because of the variables, but certainly it will be stressed clearly that our goal for this project is to open up in 2017 when we play our first game.”
As for the funding, Hogue and DeCenzo both emphasized again that the project will not result in increased tuition or student fees.
And it’s not as if the university needs to come up with all the money up front. Hogue equated the state bonding process to taking out a mortgage on a house.
“That [$38 million] number, I believe, is still fluid. Certainly we wanted to set a parameter, and that’s what the board did, but we’re going to continue working with the architects,” Hogue said. “As we continue working with them, there’s going to be tweaks. I’m sure there’s efficiencies we’ll try to achieve that might save us on costs. So until we really know exactly what it is we’re spending – certainly it will be at or below the $38 [million] – then I think we’ll have a better idea of what our plan is to augment what the bonding is to pay for it. What we’re really talking about is how do you structure paying your debt, financing the facility since this is all capital cost.”
That not-to-exceed budget includes everything down to furniture for the new suites, and Hogue said Coastal Carolina must strike a balance that the revenue streams it identifies to fund the project also allow for increased operational costs that come along with a significantly larger stadium and the move to the Sun Belt in general.
Hogue said it’s still early in the process as the university develops its strategy for soliciting new revenue streams outside of what will come along with the expectation of increased attendance and concession sales. He noted that the opportunity to play guaranteed-money games against power conference programs that will now pay far more than what the Chants could attract as an FCS program is another built-in revenue stream to this transition.
There will also be new naming rights opportunities within the expanded stadium, which the Chanticleer Athletic Foundation will negotiate.
But regardless, part of paying for this project is no doubt going to require help from the community, Hogue said.
“The state acknowledges that we have a great track record in terms of how we’ve financed our capital outlay, most of which really has not had much to do with athletics. I think when you look at that track record financially, we’re going to lean on that again and I think we have a good road map,” he said. “But there’s no question that in order to do that we will have to step up both from an athletics standpoint and a CAF standpoint to raise those private dollars. We understand that. We know we’re on the hook to do that, and we know that a large chunk of what services that debt has got to come from those sources.
“That’s why it’s so important, I think, for the community to understand how their support is critical for us to be able to move forward, not only in our department but this entire project within the context of the university.”
Meanwhile, in regard to securing the board of trustees’ approval and setting those initial financial parameters as the project moves forward, DeCenzo said there was “healthy discussion” involved.
“I think the general feeling was everybody was excited about it, everybody knows that this is a transformational piece to the university,” he said. “We just want to make sure we’re getting everything that is needed and will represent this institution well.”
Brooks Stadium Expansion
As Coastal Carolina moves forward with the project to expand Brooks Stadium from 9,214 seats to more than 21,000, here are some upcoming dates on the projected timeline to keep in mind.
January 2016: CCU officials hope to have a more precise estimated cost for the project from the architects.
February 2016: CCU hopes to be in position to gain the next phase of approval from the state to move forward with the project and bid out a contractor.
Summer 2016: The earliest any actual construction is likely to begin.
August/September 2017: CCU hopes to have the expanded stadium complete for the start of the 2017 football season.