Inside 6 design bids to renovate Florida Gators’ football stadium

GAINESVILLE — What should the Florida Gators want out of a nine-figure renovation to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium?

Six design teams presented their answers through formal bid requests to help renovate The Swamp. One group, Crawford Architects and Gensler, broke it into three themes:

• Elevating the fan experience

• Extending the stadium life

• Maximizing revenue

Crawford and Gensler are exploring those themes after signing a $4.7 million contract in January. The deal lists the construction budget at $300 million, though the Gators have pegged the full price tag at more than $400 million.

At a recent trustee meeting, UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said the Gators are in an information-gathering phase. We are, too. The Tampa Bay Times recently used public-records laws to view the proposals. Rather than get caught up in details that might never materialize, we came away with some broad, hypothetical sketches of how UF can modernize its historic 88,550-seat, 94-year-old football home. Shade, anyone?

Better fan experience

Some suggestions are obvious: new restrooms; upgraded concessions with online ordering and grab-and-go options; loge boxes; end-zone clubs; better family seating.

Other ideas were more interesting. D’Agostino Izzo Quirk Architects (D’AIQ) used its experience renovating the Rose Bowl to bring up pageantry that “extends outside the entrances, photo moments, signage …” That doesn’t just mean Instagrammable backdrops; it means considering how the “signature footprint” looks from a blimp so it seems picturesque from your couch.

OSPORTS mentioned field-level boxes and tunnel clubs to create “immersive experiences.” Because younger spectators prefer communal experiences, fan plazas and social areas might make sense.

For the north entrance, Davis Architects suggested an expanded club area and concourse with a redesigned plaza landscape to spruce up the team’s arrival (the Gator Walk). For the south side, UF could add a student plaza, more social spaces and a grand stairway for a pseudo corner atrium. Replace ramps with elevators or stairs. Add a new deck. Straighten part of Gale Lemerand Road to liven up game days and increase walkability. Could stadium offices be moved to let seats along the west side grow? What about a patio area with shade?

At least two other bids specifically mentioned shade as something the school must consider. Davis included hydration. Another company, HNTB, said canopies can help, but better air flow in the concourses cools fans, too.

In its 2022 study on The Swamp, Crawford presented options for a pure renovation, renovation/reconstruction and a new stadium. Capacities ranged from almost 83,000 (with a new stadium) to 75,000-80,000 with renovations. Every scenario included more suites — doubling the number in some cases. Club seating would increase from 5,664 to more than 8,000 under some renovations.

Extending stadium life

Adaptability — or as OSPORTS called it, “future-proofing” — is paramount with a project this big and pricey.

HOK reminded the Gators that technology is changing exponentially, and fans’ priorities will change with it.

“This should transform the way we view traditional stadium architecture, as we look to create spaces that can be changed quickly to accommodate future trends,” its pitch said.

The group suggested moveable walls to reconfigure seating easily, adding access to power and putting state-of-the-art technology in premium areas (that could also be used for high-end meetings). UF also needed to consider the possibility of future developments in or near the stadium.

Davis wrote that player development/recruiting areas will likely need “refreshing” every few years with sound, video and branding that helps prospects “envision themselves on the field being cheered on by a full house.”

Maximizing revenue

According to HNTB, outdoor club seating (not suites or loge seats) is usually the best return on investment. Founder suites do well if they’re close to the field.

But those types of choices seemed less important than versatility. HNTB stressed that “The Venue is Bigger than the Venue.” That means designing plazas, concourses, and everything else in and around the stadium “with flexibility in mind, maximizing non-game day use.” D’AIQ cited the farmers markets and soccer games the Rose Bowl has added to its calendar.

Crawford/Gensler hit on plans for “hospitality, concerts, events, meetings/conferences, and other academic functions.” Gensler is also working on the Historic Gas Plant District in St. Petersburg that features the Rays’ new stadium.

Crawford and Gensler also brought up an easy-to-overlook financial choice: setting a minimum seating capacity when parts of the stadium are unusable because of construction. Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium, for example, is expected to be down more than 20,000 seats this year during its renovation.

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