Notre Dame considering major changes to stadium


"The House that Rockne Built" could be getting a new look.

The University of Notre Dame announced Thursday it's conducting a feasibility study to see if adding onto its stadium makes sense.

More space is needed on campus for student life and activities and the university says the stadium is in a good location to serve as a central hub. It would allow the space to be used more than 8 to 10 times a year.

The proposal includes constructing new buildings that would rise above the stadium. Some could be used as classrooms, a student center or a conference venue.

"There would be a student center on the west side of the stadium that would include things like office space for student organizations, a large social gathering space of some kind for student dances and those sort of things," said Notre Dame Spokesperson Dennis Brown. "Maybe a food court, something along those lines."

The building on the stadium's east side would be a media center. Executive vice president John Affleck-Graves said it would likely be one of the most widely used buildings on campus. He said it would be used by students doing classwork, faculty preparing online courses, as well as university officials and alumni. The north side would be an academic area that could include classrooms, but would not rise above the current bowl. The south side would be a community center that could include a visitors center, a store and a restaurant.

"I think it's a great idea," said Notre Dame sophomore Patrick Grahek. "Football Saturdays are some of the best days of the year. Being able to come here more often would be a really good addition."

In addition to increasing space for students, the changes would also help the athletic department raise money through premium seating and by holding other events at the stadium, such as concerts and possibly an event such as the NHL's Winter Classic, said Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick.

"We're in a business where we have to generate some additional revenue out of that stadium to support the program," Swarbrick said. "Long-term premium seating plays a role in that."

Under the proposal, buildings running parallel to the sidelines would rise about three stories above the stadium, providing premium club-style seating that would include areas where fans could sit and eat. Swarbrick said corporate sponsors and other groups had expressed interest in having areas they could have during game days.

"We have a critical lack of that," he said.

The plan would increase seating to about 84,000, up from the present 80,795, although Swarbrick said he doesn't know how accurate that estimate is. The plan also calls for the press box to be moved to the other side of the field and the opponents' locker room to be moved to the other end of the stadium, meaning they would no longer use the tunnel where Notre Dame enters.

Although some Notre Dame alumni have opposed changes to Notre Dame Stadium, such as talk of adding video scoreboards or artificial turf, Swarbrick said he has been encouraged by the response he's received so far from those who have seen the proposal. He also said people should keep in mind that Rockne, who was involved in designing the building, didn't build a traditional stadium.

"He built a state-of-the-art stadium. We want to keep everything about that building, but embrace that original vision," Swarbrick said.

He said construction wouldn't impact the existing bowl.

"That's the essence of the iconic venue, and we want to protect that," he said.

Swarbrick said university officials had looked at what had been done at other high-profile facilities, such as Fenway Park, Lambeau Field, Wrigley Field, the stadiums at Michigan and Ohio State, and the Rose Bowl.

An artist's rendering of the plan appeared to show two black scoreboards on the west side of the stadium. Swarbrick was asked if those were video boards.

"Absolutely no decision made on video boards," Swarbrick said, saying the two scoreboards shown on the west end zone were put off to the sides so they wouldn't block the view of the Hesburgh Library, which has the mural widely known as "Touchdown Jesus."

The rendering also shows the stadium connecting to the Joyce Center, which would allow fans to go inside during bad weather.

The building on the stadium's east side would be a media center. Executive vice president John Affleck-Graves said it would likely be one of the most widely used buildings on campus. He said it would be used by students doing classwork, faculty preparing online courses, as well as university officials and alumni. The building on the west side would be a student center. The north side would be an academic area that could include classrooms, but would not rise above the current bowl. The south side would be a community center that could include a visitors center, a store and a restaurant.

Affleck-Graves said feasibility study should take six to nine months. If the university decides to proceed, it will take more than two years for planning and design and another two to three years to build, so the entire process likely would take five to six years.

Affleck-Graves said the cost won't be known until all the specifics are decided. The university has a policy that it doesn't begin construction until it has 100 percent of the money pledged and 75 percent in hand in cash.


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